Reading and getting ready for the conclave

Like most Catholic journalists, I’ve been doing as much reading as possible about the church and the papal transition since Pope Benedict XVI announced Feb. 11 he would renounce the papacy at the end of February. I’ve been through four papal transitions in my life (but only one while working for the Catholic press), so I was eager and curious to know as much as possible.

Having been to Rome about a dozen times over the years, I know where things are and how they work (or don’t work) at the Vatican. I was in Poland when Pope John Paul II was buried and watched his funeral broadcast live for tens of thousands of people in Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square, but I’ve never been in Rome during a papal funeral or conclave.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been soaking up all I can about the conclave and the cardinals who might be elected pope. In addition to everything Catholic News Service and our own staff has reported about the reaction to the pope’s resignation, sources of info on the process abound.
A great, quick resource, has been “Conclave: Step by Step through the Papal Interregnum,” a basic outline prepared by Monsignor Charles Burns, O.B.E., Residential Canon of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and Ecclesiastical Adviser at the British Embassy to the Holy See. The 37-page PDF file is available on the internet.
“Selecting the Pope: Uncovering the Mysteries of Papal Elections,” by Greg Tobin has much the same information as Msgr. Burns’ pamphlet, but in book form. The copy I have is from 2003, while John Paul was still pope, in advance of the transition from his papacy to the next. Tobin updated it in 2009, during Benedict’s papacy.
It’s been fun, too, re-reading through “If I Were Pope,” a collection of 40-plus essays compiled and edited in 1987 by Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Candida Lund. One of the contributors was my journalism professor in college, and several are Catholic journalists with whom I have worked over the years, including two who were at one time or another editor of the Catholic Review. My favorite line comes from the first essay, by Walter F. Murphy: “My first action after becoming pope would be to immerse myself in a lengthy retreat, complete with much prayer and some fasting, in an effort to regain faith in the Holy Spirit for making such an unwise choice or in the church for misreading the Spirit’s message.”

John Thavis’ “Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church” had a great story about the bell-ringer who was supposed to set the large bell at St. Peter’s Square in motion in 2005 when Pope Benedict was elected. The word to ring the bell finally came about 10 minutes after the white smoke came from the Sistine Chapel chimney.
Thavis’ book, written from 30 years’ experience covering the Vatican, mostly as Rome bureau chief with CNS, has gotten quite a boost from the timing of the conclave. When the pope resigned, his publisher pushed up the release date for “Vatican Diaries” and Thavis has been in Rome, blogging and being interviewed on TV news all over.
Another book that got a boost from the timing of the papal transition is that of Marylander and Catholic Review columnist George Weigel. “Evangelical Catholicism: Deep reform in the 21st-Century Church,” makes the case that the next pope needs to engender radical change in the church, in order to set people on fire for the faith and gather more souls to Christ. The book is ranked in the top 250 on Amazon.
Weigel is a commentator during the transition for NBC and MSNBC and has been interviewed by dozens of news organizations.
I’ve read bloggers and pundits and tons of news sources, secular and Catholic. I’m watching the cardinals take the oath of secrecy in the Sistine Chapel live via Centro Vaticano Television as I write this.
Predictions abound about who the front-runner is as the cardinals enter the conclave. Names are bandied about and favorites change daily.
And none of it amounts to a hill of beans. What matters is what is in the minds and hearts of the 115 cardinal electors as they listen to the breath of the Holy Spirit and elect the next pope.
In a few moments, the doors to the chapel will be closed and the conclave (from the Latin “cum clave” – with a key) will begin. I expect that we will see white smoke in a day or two.
And then, more research will begin: Who is this man who will be our Holy Father? Where did he come from? What will be his priorities? How will he energize and evangelize the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world and all who seek the Lord?
It’s a fun time to be working behind the headlines.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.