Location: South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

It was the evening of the same day

Monday night had got a bit chilly, and it was regretted that a sweater was not worn. After arriving in time to see on the big screens in the Piazza the ceremonies of entering the conclave, and then attending the 5pm Mass in GHQ, it was a long and prayerful, (and chilly) sit in the piazza until nearly 8pm, when the first whisps of the smoke that would announce the result of the ballot were seen from the Sistine chimney. It was WHITE. There is absolutely no doubt that it was white. There was a huge cheer and astonishment in the square, an election on the very first ballot; that could only mean Ratzinger…. Its white….e bianco….e bianco…. er… its grey, …. e nero. Well, it was white at first, for more than a few seconds, and then grey and then black. There was an audible sigh, thirty thousand people got up and left, and that was the end of that.

Tuesday morning, a late start was possible, the first appointment being noon. Reading Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily from Mass the previous morning in the Italian edition of L’Osservatore in the square, it was easy to spot others who had also printed out copies from the internet of lists of cardinals arranged by age &c. Eventually the seated section was opened, and a good position obtained. Come 11.50 the by now familiar “White smoke” appeared briefly and then the black. Oh well, time for a stroll around Libreria Ancora and the other shops in the Via Della Conciliazione before 1pm lunch with a Vatican official. Heading out of the colonnades towards the Porta Sant’Anna, the small Post Office and souvenir shop had almost been reached, when there was a thunderous roar from back in the square. The most extraordinary charge bank through the colonnades and into the square, to see another round of white, grey and black smoke, as the second of the morning ballot papers were burnt. A note was made – two ballots means two smokes, after the second ballot.

It can be exclusively revealed that all the decent restaurants around the Borgo Pio were crammed to capacity with Vatican officials and journalists (of course not in any way talking to each other). Absolutely everyone was in the same boat – no-one had any idea what was going on inside.
Tine now for the second, and as it turned out, decisive spasm of the day. The question was, should 5pm Mass be attended inside, nothing being likely to happen for a few hours, or should a smoke watch in the square be taken. For once, the opportunity of attending Mass in GHQ was turned down. By careful selection, and moving forward a few times, a seat was obtained in row 11 of the very first section, behind some short people, who were not carrying a banner or placard to wave and obstruct the later view, and also on an aisle, enabling a quick departure at the end. The eyes of all flitted between the chimney, and the big screen. They flitted, and flitted. About 5.45pm, there was a call from a Reverend Father far from Rome, the saga of the two smokes at the end of the morning was relayed. He was of course keen to keep in touch with events in the square, EWTN and the Vatican internet had been monitored diligently, but he had to leave those sources for about an hour, and hoped to receive therefore a personal communication direct from the square using mobile phones in the event of anything happening. It was agreed that could be done, however at the moment, there was nothing to repo- SMOKE!! SMOKE!! He was then quicker to vocalise what was about to be realised – “its about ten to six with you – they haven’t had time for two ballots – they’ve elected someone!!” It was relayed to him that the smoke was still white, and that the shouts in the piazza were all “Bianco”. Indeed, we had a pope.

The absolute final certainly came when a bunch of Vatican employees, not clergy, rushed on the Sagrato in front of GHQ, from the front right-hand corner of the square (where the left luggage and facilities are) and looked back at above where they had come from, to see the white smoke for themselves. This had not happened previously. By now, everyone at the front had decided taken to stand on their chairs, where it was realised standing would be for at least an hour. Much cheering and trying to get a mobile phone signal took place. The people who had been inside GHQ were ushered out, and then cleared away from the front of the basilica. And then the bells rang. YES, the special signal, which turned out to be the signal for 6pm. Those flitting eyes switched continually from the chimney, still pouring smoke, to the balcony, to the bells, to the screen. And then the big bell began to swing. What a moment. What a moment.

Much cheering continued. Eyes now switched to the balcony. Yet further cheering and trying to get a mobile phone signal. A couple of rows in front, some helpful people started to unpack and extend their most enormous banner. It was perhaps the width of 20 people standing on chairs, and 10 rows deep, and the idea was that row 1 would unfurl it and pass it back over their heads, with each subsequent row doing the same so that it would eventually open out, spread out over a large area, and moving over the crowd. As can be imagined, this was met with great resistance by those in rows 2 and 3. However, the owners patiently explained to pass it back quickly at the appropriate time. OK, that could be coped with. A rest from cheering, but not from trying to get a mobile phone signal. Much waiting. At long last the curtains twitched, and out onto the balcony came Cardinal Medina Estevez to make the announcement, of which only two words were unknown and of interest. “Annuncio vobis gaudium magnum” he started, except that he didn’t. “Signori e Signore, madames et monsiours, Dammen und Herren, hermanas y hermanos, brothers and sisters.” Once it was realised that was what he was saying, there was a bit of relaxation and cheering. “Annuncio vobis gaudium magnum” he started properly. Wild cheering. “Habemus Papam”. Utterly wild cheering. Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimun Dominum, Dominum (yes Dominum does come twice, just to prolong it bit more) oh for goodness sake get on with it…. JOSEPHUM, a lady in the row behind was immediate in announcing Ratzinger (as if it were needed to be announced) Sancte Romanae Ecclesia Cardinalem RATZINGER. Most wildest cheering. Qui sibi nomen imposuit Benedictum Seidicessimum. Even yet wilder cheering, general standing on chairs and trying to get a mobile phone signal, not as if anyone needed to be rung up to be told the news!
There was now a long pause, the curtains twitched again, and at last appeared on the balcony the vaticanistas with the Banner bearing the arms of Pope John Paul to drape over the front of the balcony; what an operation that was. And finally our new Holy Father appeared. The most wildest cheering so far. And Spoke.

“After the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord.
The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with inadequate instruments comforts me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers.
Let us move forward in the joy of the Risen Lord, confident of his unfailing help. The Lord will help us and Mary, his Most Holy Mother, will be on our side. Thank you.”


Meanwhile, the action plan for deploying the huge banner over the heads of the crowd went into force. Rows 1 2 & 3 were fully up to speed with what to do, so it fell to the ground in front of row 4. Its owners scuttled around and managed to get it going properly somewhere behind. Who cared.

There was a short break from standing on the chairs, it was edifying how many got off to kneel on the cobblestones for the actual Urbi et Orbi blessing, and then immediately back up again. By now the rhythmic chanting and clapping of Be-ne-DET-to was well under way. After a few final cheers, time to turn and walk out of the square and into Rome, for a well-washed down dinner.

(Six months before the conclave, and rushing to Sunday Vespers at GHQ, the opportunity came to meet the then Cardinal Ratzinger as he walked through the back streets near the Borgo Pio with Mgr Genswein, presumably going home from lunch. Not stuck for words in Italian, heartfelt thanks were offered for his life, his work for the faith and the Church, and his assistance to the Holy Father (this was October 2004, and the Apostolic Palace being in sight, was bowed to). There was, it must be said, a look of some concern on the faces of the listeners as this pavement tribute began, as a certain amount of interception had taken place. When it was mentioned that there was a mutual friend in a Reverend whose name is incidental to this blog entry, their look changed to one of mild relief. “You may spveek Eengleesh” His then-Eminence directed; which was of course complied with, but running out of anything to add, other than an expression of being completely overwhelmed at meeting (and having an albeit short but nevertheless both Italian and English conversation with) Cardinal Ratzinger, further and repeated thanks were offered as they went on their way.)


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