Today, workmen are making final arrangements to the Sistine Chapel before 115 Catholic cardinals enter it for the conclave to choose the next pope. Once there, officials will lock the doors, and the participants won’t have newspapers, television, or, for the social media-savvy set, Twitter. They’ll get virtually nothing from the outside, other than food. Technicians have installed mobile-phone-jamming devices to keep the outside world unaware of the cardinals’ politicking. Workers hung red drapes this morning over the window at St Peter’s Basilica, where the world will see the new pope for the first time after the conclave elects him. The rituals of the conclave involve centuries-old customs that’ve changed very little over time. The cardinal-electors in the upcoming conclave will be much more comfortable, surrounded by Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Pope Benedict decreed that a conclave could be held as soon as all voting cardinals are present. All cardinals under 80 when the papacy goes vacant are eligible to participate.
The most gazed-at item at the Vatican this week will be a humble, copper, two-metre (six-foot)- high chimney that’ll send out puffs of smoke to tell the world if there’s a new pope. Black smoke means, “not yet”, whilst white smoke means, “pope elected”. When three Vatican firefighters hoisted the chimney to its perch a few days ago, it was a visual cue that preparations for the conclave to elect Pope Benedict’s successor were in high gear. The Holy See made the Sistine Chapel and its magnificent Michelangelo–frescoed ceiling off-limits to tourists. Then, they installed two metal stoves in a far corner, away from the chapel’s altar and the area where the cardinals will write out their picks for the next pope on slips of paper. In the past, counted ballots went into just one iron stove along with damp wood chips or wet clumps of straw to create black smoke if the vote didn’t yield a pope.
However, the smoke signal system was unreliable, triggering nervous cries of “It’s white”, and emphatic choruses of “No, it’s black!” in the various tongues of the faithful and curious who flock to St Peter’s Square for a glimpse of the chimney. Nevertheless, that solution hardly made the distinction between black and white smoke any clearer… and confusion still was the order of the day. It’s a big unknown whether the Vatican has improved its technology this time around. The sequestered cardinals will have a first chance to vote early Tuesday evening. If they fail to pick a pope, the next few days can see as many as two rounds of balloting each morning and two rounds each afternoon, until someone clinches the required two-thirds majority.
In Italy, people are speculating and betting on who’ll be the next Pope. This time, Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milano, tops the list, together with Cardinal Tarcisio Pietro Evasio Bertone, SDB, former Cardinal Secretary of State and Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church. Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, from Ghana, also has a chance of becoming pope. The conclave will open in the Vatican on 12 March.
French media reported on Monday that French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran would have the honour of announcing the next Pope to billions of Catholics. *Msgr Tauran, the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, will speak in Latin from a balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square after the conclave of 115 cardinals announces that it’s elected a new pope by sending out white smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney.
*Msgr denotes Monseigneur, NOT Monsignor. The former is a honorific for bishops in Francophone countries, whilst the latter is a courtesy title for Roman Catholic archpriests. The former would be a French-speaking bishop, whilst the latter would be a fat Irish priest with a big cigar driving a late-model Caddy (with ties to all the right pols and bookies).
12 March 2013
Voice of Russia World Service