Friday, February 15, 2013

Papal resignation and conclave - 2

Today's photo:


The scene from a previous year's meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the clergy of Rome.


Papal resignation and conclave - 2


The person at the center of this unprecedented historical event is, of course, Pope Benedict XVI. In these few days before his resignation goes into effect, on Thursday, February 28, at 8:00 p.m., he is continuing to follow the schedule of events which were planned long before his decision to resign. Here are some of them, just to give you an idea of what his days are like.


On Ash Wednesday (Mercoledì delle Ceneri), he officiated at the ceremony of the ashes, not in the basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine hill as is the custom, but in St. Peter's Basilica. Also on Wednesday the pope held his regularly scheduled Wednesday audience.


Yesterday, Thursday, he received the Italian bishops from Liguria (Genoa area), led by Cardinal Bagnasco, on their Ad Limina visit. Another Ad Limina visit will happen on Saturday, Feb. 16, when the bishops of Lombardia (Milan area) come calling, led by Cardinal Scola, probably the most papabile of the Italian cardinals. (You can read about the Ad Limina visits in a previous post on this blog).


On Saturday, Feb. 16, Benedict will meet in a private audience with Mario Monti, president of the Council of Ministers (more or less Prime Minister). This little visit is causing some controversy because we are just one week away from national political elections in Italy and Monti is a candidate. Vatican officials, however, insist that politics is not on the agenda. However, for Italian politicians a visit with the pope is always a big plus.


The pope will find time before leaving office to honor long-scheduled meetings with the presidents of Guatemala and Rumania. On Saturday, February 23, there will be a hastily-called private meeting between Benedict and the president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano. The two men are contemporaries, and a strong friendship has blossomed between them; now they are both about to leave office.


There are still two "Angelus" appearances remaining on his schedule: Sunday, Feb. 17 and the following Sunday, Feb. 24. The last General Audience will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 27, the day before he leaves office. What an unexpected honor for all those people who reserved tickets for this audience weeks and even months ago, not knowing it would be his last. The ticket owners, however, will have to share the honor with thousands of other people because the audience will be held outdoors in St. Peter's Square to accommodate the large crowds expected to show up to bid the pope farewell. "Gate crashers", so to speak . . . including yours truly!


Then comes the "big day": Thursday, Feb. 28. At 11:00 a.m. the pope will have a final meeting with the cardinals who are in Rome, most of them appointed by him. At 5:00 p.m. he will leave by helicopter from the Vatican heliport for the summer papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, just south of Rome. Then at precisely 8:00 p.m. his resignation takes effect and he will no longer be pope. This we will talk about later. At Castel Gandolfo, it is believed that Benedict will not stay in the papal apartment, but in one of the other apartments which are usually reserved for cardinals. The pope will remain at Castel Gandolfo until after a new pope has been elected.


I purposely left until last another event on the pope's schedule which took place yesterday, Thursday, Feb. 14. This, too, was a scheduled papal audience which takes place once a year, but which is always very special both to the pope and to the participants. It is the annual meeting of the bishop of Rome with the parish priests of his diocese. Present in the audience hall with the pope were: his vicar, Cardinal Villani who was seated next to him, Villani's five auxiliary bishops (including my former pastor, Bishop Matteo Zuppi), a few other bishops and the pastors. This audience was televised live by the Vatican's television network so I was able to witness the historic and somewhat emotional meeting. Usually for this occasion the pope has a prepared speech which he reads to the group, but he came to this audience with no pre-written script, explaining that he wanted to "chat" with his priests and reminisce about his participation in the Second Vatican Council as a young German theologian.  This he did in 45 minutes of ad lib, tracing the history of Vatican II from its preparatory work through the sessions and the implementation of the decrees, along with many of his own personal insights. It was truly a spellbinding performance. This was further proof to me that there is nothing wrong with this man's mind. After the audience was over, the bishops and a few select pastors were able to come up to the pope and greet him one at a time. Of course my former pastor, Bishop Zuppi, was among the bishops, but my current pastor, don Marco Gnavi, was among the priests who were given this honor. This was exciting for me to see, even though it was only on my television screen.


For the next couple of posts we will continue to focus primarily on the outgoing pope, but soon, and certainly after February 28, our focus will shift to the conclave. Who will be the next pope??????


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