Monday, March 11, 2013

Notes from Rome - Cornelius Sullivan


March 11, 2013
By Cornelius Sullivan

The normal Sede Vacante, the vacant Chair of Saint Peter period, usually involves a funeral followed by a Conclave. In this uncertain interregnum time we can be certain of only one thing. There will be a Papal Funeral at some time celebrated by a Pope. A funeral for a Pope by a Pope is unprecedented in Modern Times.

The mourning time for Pope John Paul II that preceded his funeral involved lines of pilgrims for days coursing through the city streets leading to Saint Peter’s Basilica. The Funeral celebrated by Cardinal Ratzinger was a world event that dominated the interregnum period before the conclave.

The spotlight of History is now focused on the future next week. In Rome time seems to be racing ahead even though it is a waiting time. A big story now is about the press, there will be five thousand six hundred journalists temporarily accredited by the Vatican Press Office. With large laminated identity badges strap slung around their necks they are intent in anticipation, wide eyed and aware of the immense historical importance of the coming days.

I have seen people fervently praying in Piazza San Pietro, amid the crowds, on their knees, looking at the basilica and looking at the light-less empty Papal Palace.

Sunday was a day without meetings for the Cardinals. They said Masses at their respective titular churches. I had dinner last night with two experienced media journalists, who are busy now doing TV spots, and a writer from the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. The reporters went to the Mass celebrated by Boston’s Cardinal Sean O”Malley at Santa Maria delle Vittoria, the church with Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Theresa. They were impressed with Cardinal Sean’s strong voice and by the fact that if he is chosen, as a Capuchin Franciscan, he will still wear his sandles. My companions are all pulling for Cardinal Ouelett from Quebec. The writer from Osservatore went to his Sunday Mass at his church on Via delle Conciliazione, Santa Maria in Traspontina, only hundreds of yards from Saint Peter’s. She said he was very nervous and that he shook.

I said that the words of Cardinal Dolan resound with clarity through the canyons of New York, and that he could clean house because he has political genius, meaning that, we like him no matter what he says. He has the gift of doing things in a way that even those that he sends away after cleaning house may end up thanking him.  My friends said that he can not relate to the Europeans. I reminded them that Pope Benedict in 2012 asked him to speak to all the Cardinals on the subject of “Evangelization in a Secular World”. My academic friends say he hit a home run with that talk. I saw him in Rome at that time, more about that later. My European friends in the United States scoff at the idea of an American Pope. Cardinal Weurl has said that it would be a problem because the US is a super power. Only a Cardinal from Washington DC would say something like that.

It is getting loud in the Press Office. Phones ring and conversations in many languages get louder as they increase in frequency. And now we await Farther Federico Lombardi’s press release for the day, Monday. The Cardinals have met for a final time before the conclave to allow the Cardinals who arrived late to speak.

At 1:15 PM Father Lombardi speaks In Italian, then there is an English translation, and then in Spanish. This is the last briefing before the conclave. The conclave begins tomorrow with a Mass in the morning.

Today there were one hundred and fifty two Cardinals present. Three Cardinals were chosen to assist the Head of the College of Cardinals.

Twenty eight Cardinals spoke this morning. Some who wished to talk did not get chance to speak because of a vote to end the talks.

The Mass tomorrow will be celebrated by Cardinal Sodano with his homily in Italian and with music by Palestrina.

After the Mass there will be a solemn procession through the Pauline Chapel below the Michelangelo frescoes of the Conversion of Saint Paul and the Crucifixion of Saint Peter with the chanting of the Litany of the Saints.

Then to the Sistine Chapel and the Cardinals take an oath in Latin and each places his hands on the bible.

The Master of Ceremonies takes out the observers and the doors are closed and locked.

It is expected that there will be a vote by 4:30 and probably some smoke by 8:00 PM. It is not likely that it will be white because this is only the first vote.

The Vatican camera will be on the chimney. “If you see white smoke, you will know what to do.”

Once elected, the one chosen will be asked, “Do you accept?” Then, “What name do you take?”

Then there will be a special prayer.

The new Pope is taken to “The Room of Tears” where he is vested with a white cassock.

The new Pope will stop at the Pauline Chapel to pray alone before the Blessed Sacrament.

Then the world will see him on the balcony.

Last time it was 45 minutes between smoke and balcony.

The Mass of ordination does not have to be on a Sunday, there will be a period of time for people from all over the world to travel.

If the Cardinals choose to not vote tomorrow, Father Lombardi with his inside information, will know because the Cardinals will have made their way to Saint Margaret’s Hall for dinner.

The whole process is both grand and familiar at the same time.

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