End of an era, focus now on papal election  

news: End of an era, focus now on papal election  

POPE John Paul II was buried in a crypt under St. Peter’s last Friday, after one of the biggest funerals in history, and remembered in special mourning services around Rome and throughout the Christian world on Sunday. The crypt is still closed to the public, but the Vatican released a photograph showing the simple, white, marble gravestone, engraved with the late Pope’s Latin name “IOANNES PAULUS PPII” and the dates of his 26-year papacy.

The death of John Paul has marked the end of an era for the 1.1 billion member Church and now, as Rome returns to normal after the epic funeral, thoughts are firmly focused on who should pick up the reins and tackle the divisions he left behind.

Cardinals call for media silence

The red-hatted “princes of the Church” have vowed not to talk to reporters before their conclave starts on April 18 for fear that this might influence the secretive election process. A senior Roman Catholic Cardinal tried to quell mounting speculation about who will succeed Pope John Paul II, urging people to contain their curiosity and let God do his work. Rome’s Cardinal, Camillo Ruini, told worshippers that the outside world had to be patient. “Instead we must be ready to welcome in our prayers, our trust and our love, he who the Lord wishes to give us,” Ruini told a packed St. Peter’s Basilica recently.

Many different agendas

Only 115 of the cardinals under 80 and eligible to vote will enter the conclave, with two prelates being too sick to travel. For 113 of them, it will be a new experience as they were elevated to their posts during John Paul’s reign. It will be the most geographically diverse group ever to sit in a conclave and many of them will be bringing very different agendas to the momentous gathering.

It is now time for cardinals, from as far away as Chile and Canada, Australia and Thailand, to sound each other out and find a man with the ideas and character to lead them on. “These are the days you try to get to know people,” said Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. “We’re all learning how this conclave thing works. I’m trying to puzzle through it myself.” Some of the cardinals are already very close, having served at the Vatican together or worked hand-in-hand in their home countries. Others have met only on trips to Rome. Still others are the only cardinal in their country and have no more than a passing acquaintance with their peers.

How is the Pope elected?

Until 1059, the Pope was chosen by European emperors. Nicolas II then decreed that this capacity be given to the cardinals who would elect a new Pope in conclave. The word conclave comes from the Latin phrase cum clavis, meaning ‘with key’. A suitable term as the cardinals are locked inside the Apostolic Palace during the voting process.

Resulting from changes that John Paul II made to the conclave, the cardinals will stay in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a hotel-style accommodation in the Vatican, instead of the uncomfortable quarters in the Papal Palace.

It is accepted practice for popes to alter the regulations of the election of their successor. Pope Paul VI, in 1975, excluded all cardinals 80 years old or over from the conclave and Pope John Paul II altered rules again in 1996. He decreed that if a cardinal had not been elected by a two-thirds majority after 12 to 13 days, a majority vote would be imposed. The 15-20 day period after the funeral is known as General Congregations, in which cardinals hold sermons to discuss what kind of Pope the church needs. A mass in the basilica of St. Peter’s Square signals the end of this period and the meeting of the conclave begins.

Shrouded in secrecy

The election is directed by the Camerlengo, assisted by three cardinals who change every third day. The whole election occurs in secrecy and it is strictly forbidden for a cardinal to comment on any aspect of the ceremony or conclave. If they do, they face excommunication.

Ballot scrutinised

Seated around the walls of the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals take a ballot paper on which is written Eligo in summum pontificem (‘I elect as supreme Pontiff). Below these words, each writes down the name of the person he chooses as Pope in secret. They then fold the ballot, proceed one by one to the altar, hold the paper up high, place it on the metal plate and slide it into the chalice. The ballots are then counted by three scrutineers (assistants). The first takes the ballot, notes the name and passes it to the second who does the same and passes it to the third. He announces the name, pierces the ballot with a needle and slides it onto a string of thread. Once all ballots are read, the scrutineers write down the official count, the third ties the ends of the thread holding the ballots and places them in a receptacle.

“Smoke practice” has confused media

After each vote, the ballots are burned with the smoke appearing over the Vatican. In order to show the result of the vote to the public, chemicals are added to colour the smoke. If the vote is inconclusive, the smoke is black; when the majority decides and a new pope is elected, the smoke is white. This practise unfortunately, is not very precise and has created problems during previous elections, as the media have been unable to decipher the colour of the smoke, which often appears to be grey.

The cardinals vote on the afternoon of the first day, then twice every morning and afternoon, if they have not elected someone within the first nine votes, they devote a day to prayer and discussion before resuming, doing the same every seven unsuccessful votes afterwards.

Election once took two years!

In 1268, the conclave spent two years in discussion deciding upon a successor to Clement IV. However, with John Paul II ruling, there must be a decision within 12 to 13 days. If the chosen cardinal accepts the honour given to him, he is proclaimed Pontifex Maximus, the Holy Roman Pontiff, and each cardinal honours him. The conclave’s senior then appears on the balcony of the Vatican and shouts in Latin, ‘habemus papam!’ (We have a pope). The new pope then advances to greet the crowd and to bless the world.

Pope’s cancer ‘miracle’

The late pontiff’s private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, in an interview with Italy’s La Stampa daily has said how an American, who was seriously ill, received communion from the Pope and was cured. The Archbishop said an acquaintance had once asked him if an American friend, who was dying from a brain tumour, could meet the Pope. The late pontiff gave the sick man communion at a private mass and the cancer “completely disappeared in just a few hours”. There have been growing calls for John Paul to be canonised, but the Vatican says only his successor can make such a decision. The conclave of Cardinals to elect his successor will begin its deliberations on April 18.