Call us Little Italy.
Next month, when the leaders of the Catholic Church meet in Rome, there will be a bit of the black and gold behind the white smoke that signals the election of a new pope.
Of the 117 cardinals under age 80 who will vote in a closed papal conclave, three have ties to Pittsburgh, and although that makes up just over 2.5 percent of the voting bloc, it's no small amount.
"Except for some Italian cities, that's a lot for one city to have," said Nicholas Cafardi, a canon lawyer, law professor and dean emeritus at Duquesne University School of Law.
Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he planned to step down from his office on Feb. 28, citing his declining "strength of mind and body" as a reason for his resignation.
It was a move with some precedent, but no pope has resigned since the 15th century, and his announcement shocked many around the world. Among those surprised was Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh, who discussed the development at a news conference with local reporters a few hours after the pope's Feb. 11 announcement.
It's likely, however, that Bishop Zubik found it far less surprising that a reporter at the news conference asked him about the story's Pittsburgh connection.
Even in Rome, there was bound to be a Pittsburgh connection.
The native sons are Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., who was born in Pittsburgh and served as its bishop for 18 years; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston in Texas, who was born in Ohio but grew up in Pittsburgh and was ordained a priest here; and Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, archbishop of Boston, who was also born in Ohio but raised in Western Pennsylvania.
"It's just a tremendous honor for the church of Pittsburgh," said Bishop Zubik in a phone interview Monday.
A Pittsburgh presence in a papal conclave is not without precedent. Three cardinals, however, is the most representation the city has ever had at one time in the process to select the next leader of the Catholic Church.
"I personally think that simply shows the vibrancy of the Pittsburgh church," Mr. Cafardi said.
In total, 11 American cardinals are eligible to take part in the papal conclave. Don't expect, however, that the group of cardinals from the United States, or from Italy or South America, for that matter, will necessarily vote as a bloc, Bishop Zubik said.
"We're not dealing here with a political scene," he said, adding that the conclave begins with days of prayer and involves guidance from the Holy Spirit.
Yet, there were reports in 1978 that all the American cardinals pushed for the election of John Paul II, and reports in 2005 that the American cardinals backed Benedict XVI, Mr. Cafardi said.
So it would not be unusual for the American cardinals, including the ones with Pittsburgh ties, to support the same candidate next month, he said.
Officially, however, the voting that occurs within the conclave is subject to secrecy.
Kaitlynn Riely: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707.