Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Papal resignation and conclave - 5

Today's photos: (1-4: Sunday Angelus. 5-10: Wednesday audience)


1.   The last papal appearance at the window for Benedict XVI.

2.   Brazil was well represented in the piazza . . .

3.   . . . as were the Mexicans.

4.   These guys are asking the pope to stay on the job (Benedict, pope again).

5.   This is what the piazza looked like two hours before the audience began!

6.   These two had the best seat in the house at the top of Bernini's colonnade.

7.  This little Italian kid was the best interview I ever heard. I told his father he would grow up to be a politician!

8.   I think these Americans thought Obama was coming, but the pope showed up instead!

9.   I finally zoomed in on the papal throne, but it was empty at the time!


Papal resignagtion and conclave – 5


The final Sunday Angelus


This week we saw the final appearance of Pope Benedict XVI for the Angelus prayer at noon on Sunday. I was one of about 100,000 people in St. Peter's Square as the pope came to the window of his study on the top floor of the Apostolic palace. On Saturday I had decided NOT to attend because that day it was cold and rainy, and more of the same was predicted for the next day, Sunday. Benedict must stand in good with the Lord because about 9:00 a.m. on Sunday the weather cleared up and it became partly sunny, so I decided to head over to the piazza.


I have been to many of these Sunday "Angelus appearances" of the popes where, on normal occasions, there are 20 to 30 thousand people in the piazza. This time, of course, it had a different feel since it was the last time this pope would be seen at that now famous window. The atmosphere in the piazza was festive, to say the least. It reminded me a bit of a pre-game gathering of American football fans outside the stadium before a big game – people singing, dancing, cheering, waving banners and pennants. The only thing missing were barbecue pits grilling hamburgers and sausages! The pope seemed in high spirits as he spoke about his imminent departure from the scene and thanked the enormous crowd for their show of support. He even thanked the Lord for the unexpected sunshine!


Final days of a pontificate


Normally, a pope spends the final days of his pontificate on his deathbed, but these are not normal times. The pope had an emotional twenty-minute meeting the other day with the president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano. It is interesting that these two men, more or less the same age and both about to leave office, have become very close. Giorgio Napolitano is not a catholic (in Italy the expression is non credente,  "non-believer"). In fact his political background is that of the Italian Communist Party.


Today, Wednesday, 27 February, was the final public audience of Benedict XVI. Usually at this time of year these audiences are held indoors in the Paul VI Audience Hall just on the left side of St. Peter's Basilica, and you must have a ticket (given out free) in order to attend. The demand for tickets was so great for this audience that it was decided to hold it in St. Peter's Square so as to accommodate more people. No tickets were necessary for this final audience. The crowd was estimated at 200,000 people, double the number at the Sunday Angelus. And yes, I was one of them, but I don't think the pope noticed me, as I could barely see him! People began arriving at the piazza at 7:00 a.m. when it opened for the 10:30 a.m. audience. I arrived at 9:00 and could barely squeeze into the square. It was a nightmare for the security personnel because everyone had to go through the metal detectors to get into the piazza.


The drama of this audience was, of course, that not only was it the last public appearance of Pope Benedict, but it was also his last full day as pope. Tomorrow, Thursday, he will meet with the cardinals in the morning and then leave by helicopter from the Vatican helipad for Castel Gandolfo at 5:00 p.m. where he will remain, presumably in seclusion, for about two months. Three hours after his departure, at 8:00 p.m. the Sede Vacante begins, the interval of time between the death (or retirement) of one pope and the election of his successor. At exactly that hour the Swiss Guards will no longer have the responsibility of guarding  the (by then) former pope. Those guards who are on duty at Castel Gandolfo at that moment will go off duty and be replaced by Vatican and Italian police.


The last official document issued by this pope was released yesterday. Called in Latin a motu proprio, the document, or memorandum, makes it possible for the cardinals to anticipate the start of the conclave. The normal length of the Sede Vacante is 15-20 days, but Benedict has now given the cardinals the option of beginning earlier, provided all the cardinal electors are present in Rome. The decision will be made by the cardinal electors themselves on Friday, March 1. The date most often mentioned as the starting date of the conclave is March 10, but we'll have to wait for the cardinals to make it official. The Latin term motu proprio means "at his own initiative", and it is used to mean a letter or memorandum written by the pope to address a specific topic.


Conclave defections


As we mentioned in earlier posts, the number of eligible electors is 117. However, it appears that this number will drop to at least 114. Two cardinals, an Egyptian and an Indonesian, will probably not be able to participate because of poor health. And just yesterday, the Scottish cardinal, Obrien, involved in sexual abuse cases in his country, announced that he is retiring and will not participate in the conclave. This does not affect the number of votes required to elect the pope – that remains seventy-six, a two-thirds majority.


Our next post will probably be on Friday or Saturday, during the first days of the Sede Vacante.


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