The Roman Catholic cardinals gathered at the Vatican in Rome to elect a new pope have entered the Sistine Chapel to start the conclave. They will literally be locked in the historic structure until their work is finished.
As all things with this process, it’s part news event and part religious ritual.
To follow the faith side of the event, click here for a guide.
The 115 cardinals eligible to cast handwritten ballots now begin the process of voting for a new pope. Theoretically, the first vote could happen tonight, Rome time. As always, smoke from the burning of the ballots will signal the decision: black smoke for no pope; white smoke for a new pope.
In a letter to his priests back in his home archdiocese in New York City, American Cardinal Timothy Dolan (considered one of the papal contenders) made a bold prediction, saying, “My guess is that we’d have a new Successor of St. Peter by Thursday evening, with a hoped-for inaugural Mass on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, the patron of the Church Universal, a holiday, and Father’s Day here in Italy.”
For a commentary-free view, the Vatican is offering an HD livestream from its own Website.
In other cardinal-related news, papal watcher Dr. Robert Moynihan relates an exchange he had with one of the cardinal-electors on the streets of Rome on Monday afternoon.
After the unnamed cleric expressed his disapproval over the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI – likening the relationship between pope and Church to the lifelong bond between spouses or parents and children – he squeezed Moynihan’s hand and offered a portentous comment.
“It is a dangerous time. Pray for us.”
The normally jovial Dolan, an experienced blogger and media presence, offered a similar sentiment for prayer in his blog, “The Gospel in the Digital Age,” on Friday, March 8.
Heartfelt thanks for your prayers! We need them! We feel them! Keep them up! An old-timer told me that the days between the passing of one Pontiff and the election of a new one are like the days in Jerusalem after Our Lord’s Ascension to heaven.
The whole Church prayed, prayed hard, prayed long, united with the apostles and the Mother of Jesus, who were locked-up in the Cenacle, awaiting the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit! That’s happening now, if your abundant and gracious notes and messages are any indication.
In another post from Saturday called "A few ‘bloopers,'" Dolan corrects some of the misunderstandings among the press and public about the pope and the Church. Among those are the pope’s supposed “divinity” (he isn’t), worshiping the pope (Catholics don’t), that the pope can change doctrine (maybe how it’s taught, but not what is taught), and that the new pope will also be the big boss.
As to the last one, Dolan writes, “Yes, while I look forward to pledging my obedience to our new Holy Father, I also recognize that his ancient title is ‘servant of the servants of God.’ Following Jesus, he will be elected to serve, not to be served.”
He then quotes an observation by John Paul II, “The Church proposes, not imposes.”
If you want to watch papal-conclave coverage on broadcast or cable news, Mediabistro has provided this helpful and fairly exhaustive rundown of who’s at the Vatican with eyes on the smokestack.
The Los Angeles Times offers a rundown of the top papal contenders, with a slideshow.
And lastly, following up on an earlier story in which atheist Penn Jillette schooled self-proclaimed Catholic Piers Morgan on basic theology and philosophy concerning the papacy, young-adult-oriented blog Ignitum Today published “An Open Letter to Penn Jillette From an Appreciative Young Catholic.”
Former evangelical, Bible-college student, and atheist Nic Davidson, who says he came into the Church in 2008, concludes by saying he’s praying for Jillette’s conversion – he’s not alone, but one shouldn’t hold one’s breath on that one – but he has harsh words for those, like Morgan, who profess Catholicism but don’t seem willing to follow the teachings of the faith.
Davidson writes, “There is a desperate, pressing need for more people like you to hold the line against the subversive gibberish and rhetoric of a culture which says you don’t have (to) mean what you say or be what you are."
“The Church is rife with thousands who loudly profess to be Catholic and, in the same breath, unequivocally deny teachings which are intrinsic to Catholicism," he continued. "Thank you for being one person who won’t stand for the paradox and contradiction.”
According to his bio on the site, Davidson is a youth minister on the Caribbean island of Dominica, where his wife is studying medicine.
Speaking of youth, there’s a lot of talk going around about what challenges face the new pontiff once he takes office. One that hasn’t been mentioned is World Youth Day, originated by Pope John Paul II in 1985, which is coming up on July 23-28 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
WYD is celebrated every year, but every two or three years it becomes an international gathering at a site announced by the pope. The last one was in August, 2011, in Madrid, Spain, with attendance estimates ranging from 1-1.5 million youthful pilgrims from around the globe.
Earlier WYDs took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina (1987); Santiago de Compostela, Spain (1989); Czestochowa, Poland (1991); Denver, Colo. (1993); Manila, the Philippines (1995), with 5 million in attendance at Luneta Park; Paris, France (1997); Rome, Italy (2000); Toronto, Canada (2002); Cologne, Germany (2005); and Sydney, Australia (2008).
With a new pontiff on hand – Rio’s Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta confirmed in February that Benedict XVI said either he or “my successor” would attend — numbers of the faithful at this year’s event should swell even more. They should go completely off the charts if Brazil’s Cardinal Odilo Scherer, 63, becomes pope.
The theme of this year’s WYD, from the Gospel of Matthew, is “Go and make disciples of all nations.”