Who said the Roman Catholic Church is in trouble? This morning at 9am, crowds had already braved steady rain to gather at St. Peter’s Square – even though white smoke wasn’t expected that morning, or on Wednesday at all. By 11:30, thousands were there, in the rain: young priests, young nuns, along with faithful from all over the world. A group of Swedish teenagers diligently watched the jumbotron showing the Sistine Chapel’s chimney. [embedgallery id=120994]
“Our generation grew up with only one Pope, so the election of a new Pope is huge for us”, explained Fr. Diego Berrio, a young priest from Colombia, as we met on St. Peter’s Square. “When Benedict XVI was elected, the outcome was very clear. He was the frontrunner, and with good reason. This time it’s different because there’s no frontrunner. I was here for the first round of voting [on Tuesday night] and was really excited and nervous, even though I knew the election wouldn’t be decided then.”
One young German civil servant had taken vacation days as soon as Benedict announced his resignation – just to be here. “We Germans never appreciated him as much as people in other countries did”, he said. “It’s as we never want one of our own to succeed.”
Like him, thousands of people have taken time off from work to watch this election – all the more remarkable given that they don’t have an input in it. “It’s a choice between a Pope like John Paul II and Benedict XVI or someone quite different”, said Fr. Leonard Altilia, a Jesuit priest from Toronto who’s currently teaching in Rome. “Benedict’s resignation, which he announced without any advance warning, was a brilliant move. It was a clean cut and didn’t allow any internal manoeuvring. So now we have an open field.” Then Fr. Altilia took a break to explain to a group of American teenagers when they might expect white smoke.
Indeed, despite the rain and the long wait – which is expected to continue for days – the mood on St. Peter’s was upbeat, festive even. “You need tranquillity when you elect a new Pope”, reflected Sister Epiphania, a young nun from Nigeria. “If there’s black smoke I’ll be back in the afternoon. We just have to wait for the Holy Spirit.”
If the Holy Spirit decides to wait, Rome’s tourism business will experience a welcome boomlet, as the faithful and the over 6,000 accredited journalists will remain until the white smoke emerges. As he was waiting, Fr. Diego considered which qualifications the new pontiff needs: “He needs to get the message across that faith is an individual experience that you express in the community. And he needs to fix the Curia [Vatican bureaucracy].” Fr. Diego even allowed himself to think about the prospect of a Colombian Pope: Colombia has one voting cardinal. “All the violence has given us a bad reputation”, he reflected. “But most Colombians are good. So why not a Pope?”
Then a noise went through the crowd and people ran towards the jumbotron: it was black smoke.
CONCLAVE SCHEDULE (All times Rome local)
06:30-07:30 – Breakfast served in St. Martha's House (Domus Sanctae Marthae)
07:45 – Transfer from Domus Sanctae Marthae to Pauline Chapel
08:15-09:15 – Mass in Pauline Chapel
09:30 – First vote of morning in Sistine Chapel
11:00 – Second vote of mornng
12:00 – Smoke from morning ballot papers (unless pope is elected after first morning vote)
12:30 – Cardinals return to St. Martha's House for lunch
16:00 – Cardinals return to Sistine Chapel
16:50 – First of two votes in the afternoon
18:00 – Second vote in afternoon
19:00 – Smoke from afternoon ballot papers (unless pope is elected after first afternoon vote)
19:15 – Vespers in Sistine Chapel
19:30 – Cardinals return to St. Martha's House
20:00 – Supper
This schedule repeats itself until there is a result. After three days, if no pope has been elected by a two-thirds majority, voting is traditionally suspended for one day of prayer and discussion.
Source: Vatican Radio