Our Sunday Visitor Publisher Greg Erlandson traveled to Rome to cover the Papal Conclave. He filed reports as the week progressed with his observations and commentary
Roman Journal: The Conclave Begins--4
As I am writing, the cardinals are in the Sistine Chapel. In what may be one more example of how papal elections have changed in this media age, television cameras are recording the 115 cardinals processing up to an enormous open Bible, where each lays his hand on the Gospel and recites an oath to observe the rules of conclave, most particularly not to break the vow of silence regarding what will take place over the next hours and days.
The quiet of the Sistine, instead, will leave them only with their thoughts, prayers and votes under the gaze of Michelangelo’s powerful Christ at the Last Judgment.
The media has been full of stories about which cardinals are leading in votes, who the front runners are, and who the dark horses may be. Some of the stories may even be true.
If one believes what one reads, always a risky business in Italy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Dean of the College Cardinals, is in the lead, but without an absolute majority of votes. Any supporter of this cardinal must nervously recall the Roman saying that “he who goes into a conclave pope comes out a cardinal.”
Yet this rule applies except when it doesn’t. Sometimes the front runner is the next pope.
Journalists like conflict, and so Cardinal Ratzinger is portrayed as the candidate of the more conservative cardinals. Who exactly he is pitted against is not clear, but this does not stop the speculation. Some say that Cardinal Carlo Martini, 79, will be the “progressive” candidate on the first of the votes, even though he suffers from Parkinson’s, as did Pope John Paul II. Others say the “progressive” candidate is Milanese Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, although he is an orthodox theologian who often wrote long essays on moral issues in L’Osservatore Romano – the Vatican newspaper – before he was made archbishop of Milan.
Other cardinals mentioned in the press as likely candidates along with Cardinals Ratzinger and Tettamanzi include Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio, Portugal Cardinal Jose da Cruz Policarpo, Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, and several others.
Imagine an American political convention where there were perhaps a dozen potential candidates, some not even mentioned before the convention, and you can understand the frenzied curiosity of the press.
This morning, I attended the Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the election of the Pope. The principal celebrant must be the dean of the college of cardinals. As luck would have it, this year that meant Cardinal Ratzinger.
His homily was a moving spiritual meditation on the readings – Isaiah 61, 1-9, Ephesians 4, 11-16, and John 15, 9-17. Citing St. Paul’s message to Ephesus, the cardinal made it clear that today the barque of faith is threatened by fundamentalism, relativism, radical individualism, and more.
But he also laid out a simple vision of Divine love, and at one point told the cardinals, church officials and thousands of lay Catholics attending the historic Mass, “We must be animated by a holy restlessness: A restlessness to bring to everyone the gift of faith, of the friendship of Christ.”
And in a sentence of moving simplicity, the cardinal said, “Thank you, Jesus, for your friendship!”
The homily ended with spontaneous applause from the people in the seats, the “faithful present in the city of Rome” who were allowed to attend this Mass without tickets or passes.
Applause greeted the cardinals one more time, as they processed from the church wearing the red vestments of cardinals, the red also of martyrdom. This applause seemed to puzzle some and perhaps even offend others, but I found it very moving. Watching the cardinals process by, I felt that the people around me were applauding almost as one would applaud soldiers going off to battle. There was a steady clap of hands supporting them on the way to their difficult and important task. This would be, after all, the last time they would be seen in public before the new pope is elected.
For two weeks the cardinals have been celebrities – courted, pursued, photographed and written about like pop stars. Now their “ten minutes of fame” is ending.
The first cardinals to leave seemed surprised by the applause. The puzzlement gave way to smiles on many in appreciation for the spontaneous expression of support.
Only one cardinal that I saw did not smile or even seem to respond to the encouraging applause. The principal celebrant, the dean of the cardinals, the last cardinal in the procession, looked as if he carried a heavy burden. His gaze seemed to be fixed on something at an uncertain distance ahead of him. Perhaps what lay in the future was still no more clear for him than for the thousands of journalists watching him disappear slowly into the Vatican. Perhaps it was too clear.
April 18, 2005
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