As previously rumored, the conclave to elect the successor to retired Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will begin on Tuesday, March 12.
Shortly before 7 PM Rome time Friday, the Holy See’s press office released a statement saying that the cardinals will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Tuesday morning. In the afternoon, they will be locked into the Sistine Chapel in the Apostolic Palace to begin the prescribed ritual of voting, with the goal of finding one of their number that can gain the two-thirds majority necessary to be next in the line of popes that began with the Apostle Peter.
Each round of secret, handwritten ballots is tallied and then burned in a special, high-tech stove installed in the Chapel. The eyes of the press, the assembled faithful in St. Peter’s Square, and the world will then turn to a small smokestack over the Palace. If black smoke rises, a pope has not yet been elected. If white (or more accurately, probably light gray) smoke is seen, the call of “Habemus Papam!” (“We have a pope!” in Latin) will go out.
The procedure to choose a pope has evolved over the Church’s 2,000-year history. In 1271, the election that resulted in the choice of Gregory X at Viterbo, Italy, took two years and nine months. Weary of the endless process, local officials locked up the cardinals to urge them to work faster.
After assuming the Chair of Peter, Gregory X promulgated the law of the conclave, setting up stringent guidelines for choosing popes, designed to focus the cardinals on the task at hand (including forcing them to live together and reducing their meals if the vote dragged on) and to prevent information leaks (an issue that plagues papal selection processes to this day).
After Pope John Paul I’s unexpected death ended his 33-day reign, the conclave that followed in October, 1978, took only two days to choose Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow, Poland, who assumed the name of John Paul II.
Upon John Paul II’s death shortly after Easter in 2005, the conclave that chose German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, lasted about a day and a half.
Only the cardinals know exactly what they are looking for in a pontiff. But in thinking about what might be needed for the job, it becomes apparent that it will be challenging to find someone who possesses all or even most of the requisite qualities.
These include personal holiness; a pastor’s compassionate heart; communications and managerial skills; a knowledge of languages, cultures and theology; a high tolerance for international travel and lengthy public ceremonies; and, especially since Benedict instituted the papal Twitter under @Pontifex, an ability to express complex religious thoughts in 140 characters or less.
The new pope should also have an ineffable quality that echoes that of the Church’s founder.
As quoted by NBC News, the ebullient Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York – who’s also the leader of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and considered in some corners as a top papal contender – said he was looking for a man who is “an icon, a reflection of Jesus Christ.”
Dolan continued, “When we look to him, we are reminded of the Lord. When we look to him, we see the beauty, the grace, the mercy of the Church, so that’s number one.”
This quality might have been expressed most succinctly by President George W. Bush. When asked by EWTN’s news director Raymond Arroyo about what he saw when he looked into Pope Benedict XVI’s eyes, the POTUS – the third Methodist to occupy the Oval Office – replied simply, “God.”
While @Pontifex is currently Sede Vacante – “the seat being vacant” in Latin – and deactivated until a new pope is chosen, there are high-tech ways to keep abreast of papal and conclave developments.
Verbum, the cross-platform Catholic library running on the Logos Bible Software platform, has introduced “Conclave,” a free app for Android and iOS that offers cardinal biographies, official documents, key Catholic media sources, and a live feed from St. Peter’s Square to read the smoke signals.
There is also the Catholic Church’s own “Pope App,” released in January by the Pontifical Council on Social Communications. Available for iOS and Android, it will (once there is a new pope) track his movements and schedule, along with providing still photos, video and live Webcam images from Vatican City.
In related news, the USCCB has asked the Catholic faithful to dedicate their Lenten Friday fast and abstinence from meat on March 8th (the feast day of the famously humble former soldier Saint John of God), to “all people of faith who fight to preserve religious freedom, that the Lord will strengthen their resolve to hold firm in their witness.”
The USCCB announcement goes on to say, starting with a quote from the Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae, the Declaration on Religious Freedom, “Because men and women are created with reason and free will, they are ‘bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know and to hold fast to it.’ Thus, the U.S. Constitution simply secures the right that inherently belongs to each person by virtue of his or her personhood.
“The fact that religious freedom is rooted in the dignity of the human person reminds us that we are praying and fasting not for an abstract concept called religious freedom, but for the full dignity of all men and women, created to seek the truth and hold fast to it.”
This is an outgrowth of the U.S. bishops’ ongoing battle with the Obama administration and the Department of Health and Human Services over regulations coming out of the president’s healthcare-reform bill that require employers to provide contraception and sterilization medications and services, even if that violates the religious mission or faith of the employer.