Catholic faithful observe rites as voting for new pope begins
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VATICAN CITY -- As tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square gasped in excitement Tuesday, Gloria Hudock of Peters strained to see the smoke pouring out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel against the black night sky.
No successor to Pope Benedict XVI was elected on the first ballot of the conclave. Smoke rose at 7:42 p.m.
"It's definitively black," she said, on observation aided by several Jumbotrons on which Vatican television broadcast a well-lit image of the chimney.
Ms. Hudock, with her husband, Gabe, and their 13-year-old son Stephen, happened to be visiting their older son, John, who is studying at Duquesne University's Rome campus, and planned to keep a smoke watch, despite frequent rain. Their Italian drivers have been very enthusiastic about the idea of an American pope, particularly Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who grew up in Whitehall.
"They want a Franciscan," she said. "They hold the Franciscans in the highest esteem. He'd get my vote if we were voting."
Cardinal O'Malley was ordained for the Capuchin order, part of the Franciscan tradition, and prefers its brown robes to the red ones of a cardinal. Before formally entering the conclave Tuesday, the cardinals participated in a standing-room-only Mass for the Election of a Supreme Pontiff in St. Peter's Basilica.
They were vested in red -- instead of Lenten purple -- which is not only the color of their office but the liturgical color of the Holy Spirit, whose guidance they are to seek in the conclave.
Italy's Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 85, the dean of the College of Cardinals who is too old to enter the conclave, preached, touching some of the themes that the cardinals addressed in their pre-conclave meetings.
He spoke of the church's efforts for peace and human rights, saying, "The last popes have been builders of so many good initiatives for people and for the international community, tirelessly promoting justice and peace. Let us pray that the future pope may continue this unceasing work on the world level."
Many cardinals had expressed the need for a pope who exemplified Pope Benedict's call for a "new evangelization" of fallen-away Roman Catholics and secularized Westerners. "There is no action more beneficial -- and therefore more charitable -- towards one's neighbor than ... to share with him the good news of the gospel, to introduce him to a relationship with God," Cardinal Sodano said.
If there was any hint of a repeated theme of the cardinals' meetings -- dysfunction in the Vatican administration -- it was obliquely addressed in Cardinal Sodano's call to work in unity with the pope. Cardinal Sodano, the secretary of state under Pope John Paul II, is blamed for some of the problems.
One line in the homily drew applause, which continued for some time, as he expressed "profound gratitude" to Benedict XVI, emeritus pope, for his "brilliant pontificate."
For Tom Schluep, a Pittsburgh seminarian studying in Rome, that was deeply moving.
"I was fighting back tears as I reflected on what his papacy has meant to me personally, especially while I was praying for and looking at the faces of the men who had such a tremendous responsibility to be open to that same Holy Spirit who gave us Pope Benedict XVI," he said.
The seminarians stood in a long line to go through the metal detectors and enter St. Peter's. But even in the line, "I felt a palpable sense of excitement," said the Rev. Michael Sedor, a newly ordained Pittsburgh priest finishing his studies in Rome. "It seemed like everyone around me was just happy to be there at this historic moment and excited to find out who the Holy Spirit will inspire the cardinals to elect as our next pope. I also felt a bit of hometown pride when I saw both Cardinal [Donald] Wuerl and Cardinal [Daniel] DiNardo process by at the start of the Mass."
Both were Pittsburgh priests. Cardinal Wuerl was Pittsburgh's bishop for 18 years before his transfer to Washington, D.C.; Cardinal DiNardo leads the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
Lucy Stackiewicz, a nurse practitioner who lived for years in Oakland, was in St. Peter's Square with her Steelers umbrella, although she now lives in Baltimore. She booked a flight to Rome just for the conclave.
"It's a marvelous moment for all Catholics. I wanted this opportunity," she said, adding that Cardinal Wuerl would be her first choice for pope, although she's also fond of Baltimore's former archbishiop, Cardinal Edwin O'Brien.
"We need a man who's like Jesus Christ with an MBA," she said.
At 4:30 p.m., the 115 voting cardinals gathered in the Pauline Chapel for prayer.
They processed to the Sistine Chapel chanting the Litany of the Saints. Once all were inside the Sistine, they chanted an ancient hymn invoking the Holy Spirit.
Every moment of the conclave is prescribed by church rules, but the rituals aren't as ancient as some imagine. They were first systematized in 1978 by Archbishop Piero Marini of Italy, the master of ceremonies for Pope John Paul II.
This was done to ensure that the conclave "is basically a prayer," said Monsignor Kevin Irwin, professor of liturgical studies at the Catholic University of America, currently teaching in Rome. The conclave isn't simply "a juridical action of how to do their hanging chads. It's not about that. It's about prayer ... because we believe that the Holy Spirit elects the pope and we invoke him during the ceremony."
About 90 people, ranging from the liturgist to florists, nurses and a mini-bus driver for cardinals who don't want to walk from their Vatican guest house to the Sistine Chapel, are allowed to be in the presence of the cardinals during the conclave. They swear an oath never to reveal what they learn. But as soon as the cardinals took their own oath of secrecy in the Sistine Chapel, their master of ceremonies orders "extra omnes" or "everybody out."
Despite the order for everyone else to leave, the cardinals aren't alone when they vote, said Archbishop Marini, the author of the conclave ritual.
"This isn't just a story of a special group of people who come to Rome with a specific purpose to elect a pope," Archbishop Marini said through a translator.
"When those cardinals are gathered in the Sistine Chapel, the entire church throughout the world is gathered with them. Though we may not be seeing what is going on, we are spiritually united to them. The entire period is an invitation to the whole church to be in longing, to wait and to pray."
First Published March 13, 2013 12:00 am