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Does a nearly 900-year-old non-biblical prophecy hold the key to the timing of Jesus Christ's return to Earth?
There are many in the Christian world who are now taking a look at the suggestion, based on the number of popes predicted to hold office before the so-called Second Coming.
The original prediction came from Malachy, a Catholic saint who lived in Ireland in the 12th century.
His "Prophecy of the Popes" as it has become to be known forecast in the year 1139 that there would be 112 popes from that time until Jesus made His triumphant return to the planet as King of kings.
The sudden and unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was the spark igniting the new wildfire of speculation due to one simple reason: his successor, Pope Francis, is the end of the line.
"Pope Francis is the 112th pope. He is the final pope in the list," said Tom Horn, co-author of "Petrus Romanus," which is Latin for "Peter the Roman."
Malachy lived on the Emerald Isle during the 1100s and was said to have a heart for the poor, the gift of prophecy and the gift of healing.
He made a personal pilgrimage to Rome, and in 1139, he reportedly had a vision after the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. He wrote a series of 112 lines in Latin to follow Pope Celestine II, who died in 1144. Each line described a future pontiff.
"The thing that makes this very interesting is that the vision of the very last pope involved what most biblical scholars would call 'the End Times,' and it seems to forecast the destruction of Rome even," says Cris Putnam, co-author of the book.
Horn explains on the DVD, "The final line in the Prophecy of the Popes says there will sit Peter the Roman who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations. And when these things are finished, the city on seven hills will be destroyed and the Great and Terrible Judge will judge His people. The end. ...
"The most significant thing of course is we've reached the end of it. And now the world is looking at it and they're wondering, 'Is this going to be the pope who will preside over the Catholic Church as the world enters into the great tribulation period? ...
"Some believe that the Prophecy of the Popes is describing a man who in one way or another is going to help give rise to the antichrist."
Not every Christian is jumping on this prophetic bandwagon.
Father Martin Graham, a parish priest in Belfast, Northern Ireland, cautioned that "whenever you've got tiny little phrases" over a large number of people, there's bound to be the odd correlation. Personally, I don't hold any creed to them."
Dr. Robert Rusconi, a professor of medieval history in Rome, Italy, says we simply "don't know" if there's going to be no pope after the present pontiff.
"When Benedict XVI resigned," Rusconi said, "it was just really a surprise, a shock, because it was the first time in our times that a pope resigned really, not just theoretically."
His successor, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, is the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, and also the first one to take the name of Francis.
Dr. Agostino Paravicini, a papal historian in Fribourgh, Switzerland, explains: "Pope Francis naturally has a different culture than that of the Europeans, but he also knows very well the Roman culture, and being a Jesuit, he brings something new to the papacy: a new language, even a new way to see the problems of the world, but at the same time still remaining in a tradition.
"I think this is a fundamental change," added best-selling author and historian Jerome Corsi. "I think we're going to see a huge emotional impact in the world that Pope Francis is going to create and has already created in his first bit of time in office."
Horn observed that people of all faith and even people of no faith are looking at world events today with a sharper focus.
"Some are frightened by what they see happening, others are scrambling to interpret the signs, and I think people have a sense that prophecy is unfolding around the world. People have a sense that something is kind of unhinged right now," he said.
Dr. George Grant of Nashville, Tenn., a historian and former pastor who has written more than 60 books, says regardless of whether there is any validity to the prophecies, sooner or later Pope Francis and the Vatican will have to deal with issue.
"It doesn't matter whether or not it's true. It matters that people think it's true and that they act in light of it. So my guess is that Francis and the Vatican will have to deal with this in some way, and in dealing with it, they in a sense give credence to it. That makes for fascinating politics, remarkable, unpredictable undercurrents, and in an age when quite frankly the whole world is unsteady and in the midst of turmoil, just that additional little bit creates all the more uncertainty. Do I think we need to pay attention to it? Absolutely."