ROME — For all the ‘Vaticanisti’ (journalists specializing in the Vatican) sitting around Rome and interviewing one another for the last several weeks, the wholesale consumption of high blood pressure medication took a precipitous drop on the announcement Friday afternoon that the Conclave to elect the new pope would occur on Tuesday, March 12, one day later than I had predicted several weeks ago. Now is the lull before the storm. A Mass praying for the election of the pope will be followed by the first voting session of the Conclave in the early evening.
With many media outlets waiting for that date to be announced, the remaining hotel rooms left in Rome will be gobbled up, and by Monday evening we can expect an influx of the rest of the 5000 journalists accredited to the Holy See to cover the event.
It is difficult not to compare the lead up to this Conclave to the last one I had the opportunity to witness eight years ago. Then, of course, one of the monumental figures of the twentieth century had passed from the scene after a long and highly visible bout with Parkinson’s disease. By the time I had arrived to provide commentary at the BBC location above St. Peter’s Square, the body of John Paul II was being translated (an elegant way of saying the body was ‘moved’) from the Apostolic Palace where the pope lived and died, to beneath the Bernini colonnades in the center of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a slow, mournful and moving sight. By the time the body of the Polish pope was laid in state at the foot of the papal altar lines, long line, began forming down boulevard leading to the basilica. The crowds would grow in the following days to estimates ranging from three to four million pilgrims to pay the last respects the John Paul II. (more…)