No other event in human society can compare with a papal conclave in its combination of tradition, drama, ceremony and pomp, and significance. Once the reigning pope’s death is announced to the world, cardinals and reporters rush to Rome from the farthest corners of the globe. As they assemble in the Eternal City, the drama and tension of the upcoming election begins to build. In the evening of the fifteenth day after the pope’s death, the papal master of ceremonies shouts: “Extra Omnes!” “Everybody out!” The doors of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican palace are locked cum clave, “with a key,” from within and without, and only the cardinals are left to begin the process of electing the next pope. Twice a day over the next several days, the cardinals announce to the world their failure to choose a new pope by burning their ballots with wet straw in a special stove to produce black smoke that rises from an ancient chimney atop the Vatican. It is the focus of attention of an immense crowd in St. Peter’s square. Then, as frustration begins to mount, what appears to be white smoke puffs out of the chimney. “Is it white?” The crowd strains to see. “It is white!” “Who is he? Who is the pope?” the assembled thousands ask in one voice. After what seems to be an endless wait, the senior cardinal-deacon appears on a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s square and announces: “Habemus papam!” “We have a pope!” Then in sonorous Latin, pausing between words to add suspense, he gives the name of the man elected and the name the new pontiff has chosen. Is the new pope someone whom the crowd recognizes, or is he one who comes as a complete surprise? Soon the new pontiff himself comes to the balcony to give his first blessing urbi et orbi, to the city of Rome and the world.
KeywordsChristian Community Official List Roman Community Papal Master Holy Roman Emperor
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