Electing a New Pope

The following originally appeared in the Parish Bulletin for March 17, 2013.  However it went to press before Pope Francis I became the Pope on March 13.

It feels strange to be writing to you during what will probably be the last few days of the Sede Vacante, the vacancy of the Apostolic See. There is still no pope as the bulletin article deadline looms, but it is likely we will have a pope by the time you read this. Because of this, I thought you might find it interesting to read my descriptions of the conclusion of the last conclave.

On Tuesday, April 19, 2005, white smoke began pouring from the chimney in the roof of the Sistine Chapel at 5:50 PM in Rome, or 10:50 AM here (we were seven hours apart that year). Almost an hour elapsed before Pope Benedict’s name was announced, though, because so much takes place before a new pope can be introduced to the world. According to custom, the following occurred when the final count of the ballots had been taken at the conclave of 2005: the Camerlengo of the Roman Church, Eduardo Cardinal Martínez Somalo, approached the man who for a few remaining seconds was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. He asked him, “Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?” Cardinal Ratzinger said, “I accept.” Then Cardinal Martinez asked, “By what name do you wish to be called?” At the moment he answered, “Benedict the Sixteenth,” he became the Pope. He then went to what is called the Room of Tears to exchange his cardinal’s clothing for that of the pope, choosing from among three white simars (the floor length buttoned garment usually called a “cassock”) of various sizes that had been prepared there to fit whomever would be elected. The ballots were burned before he returned to the Sistine Chapel and the 114 remaining cardinals (the exact same number as this year) pledged their obedience to Pope Benedict XVI.

After the new Vicar of Christ received the cardinals, the world’s wait was at last over.  Scarlet curtains framed the central balcony, or loggia, of St. Peter’s Basilica and screened the doors from the public’s view. Jorge Arturo Cardinal Medina Estévez, the former bishop of Valparaiso, Chile and the retired Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, by virtue of his status as the senior cardinal-deacon, came out onto the loggia. He said these words:

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum; habemus Papam: Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum, Dominum Josephum Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Ratzinger qui sibi nomen imposuit Benedictum Sexti Decimi. 

I announce to you a great joy; we have a Pope: the Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord, Lord Joseph of the Holy Roman Church Cardinal Ratzinger, who has taken for himself the name Benedict the Sixteenth.

After a few moments, Pope Benedict came out onto the balcony, to the great joy of the tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square below. He spoke to them, and to the whole of the world, giving his solemn blessing Urbi et Orbi (to the City and to the World). We can expect that in this year’s conclave, the appearance of the new pope, his brief remarks, and his blessing will be a similarly thrilling event.

In our minds we can come back to the present: on Tuesday morning the Mass for the Election of the Pontiff was celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica. Then at 4:30 the cardinals assembled in the Pauline Chapel to begin the widely televised procession to the Sistine Chapel. Cardinal Re, the senior Cardinal Elector, offered these words to the cardinals:

Venerable brethren: Since we offered holy sacrifices, now we enter the Conclave to elect a Supreme Pontiff. The whole Church, joined to us in common prayer, earnestly prays for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that a worthy Shepherd of the whole flock of Christ be elected by us.  The Lord directs our steps in this path of truth, so that, as Blessed Mary ever Virgin, the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and all the saints are interceding, he will always bring about those things which are pleasing to him.

The procession wound through corridors into the Sistine Chapel, and then the cry, “Extra omnes!” (“Everybody out!”) signaled the start of the conclave itself.

 On Tuesday at 7:41 PM in Rome (1:41 PM here, as we are six hours earlier than Rome for a few weeks), black smoke against the night sky indicated that the only ballot of the first day of the conclave was over. On Wednesday there are to be two ballots in quick succession beginning at 9:30 AM (smoke would appear at noon in Rome or at 6:00 AM here), and then another two ballots will take place beginning at 4:30 PM (smoke would appear at 6:00 PM in Rome or noon here). A blogger who runs the wonderful www.whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com reminds us that Pope Benedict was elected on the fourth ballot in 2005 (a two-day conclave), and that John Paul II was elected on the eighth ballot in 1978 (a three-day conclave). It doesn’t seem likely that the conclave of 2013 will last much longer than any other, so those who read the bulletin on Sunday are almost sure to know who the new pope is already. May God bless him, and the whole Church at a time of joy!

In the United States, March 17 lends a green tinge to the entire month of March. People almost universally know it as St. Patrick’s Day, and there is no other saint’s day that is so widely known. St. Patrick was born around 389, was made a bishop in 432, and died in 461 after having brought about the conversion of the Irish people. The Irish who came to America brought with them a deep devotion to St. Patrick. This devotion eventually made its way from churches into the streets with parades and much celebration. Because this year March 17 is a Lenten Sunday, the liturgical commemoration of St. Patrick doesn’t happen except in parishes named for him. But many of you are still going to celebrate. Through the intercession of St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, may you grow in your love for the faith he brought to the Irish people!


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