A major chill descended on Rome Monday, along with biting winds, heavy rain and even, for a time, a hailstorm. It wasn't the best weather for spending three hours on live TV stands commentating on the start of the conclave. By the time I had done the rounds of BBC and Sky News – who share their stands with NBC and CBS respectively – there was not a lot of feeling left in my feet.
|Cardinals seen in Sistine Chapel for conclave|
What follows are some observations about the events of the day:
- We were treated, in the morning, to Vatican TV's gorgeous swooping shots of the Mass for the election of a pontiff and by the afternoon were ready for more streams of scarlet. The shots were unprecedented: It is the first time the conclave procession into the Sistine Chapel has ever been live-broadcast. What the cardinals had said about the last conclave – that the voting part was more akin to liturgy than anything else – suddenly became clearer.
- While waiting to go on air for Sky, I took a call from The Washington Post. Did televising the oath ceremony demystify the conclave? The answer, of course, was yes, but in a good way. I explained that it showed us that the "arcane, secretive" process of a conclave was actually all about enabling the voting to take place in freedom, without fear or favor. Seeing the cardinals take the oath you realized what a solemn undertaking this was.
- At dinner with American colleagues on Sunday, I heard from an aide to one of the U.S. cardinals being talked about as papabile. The cardinal, he said, would not be sleeping that night. That was doubtless true also of other, non-papabile cardinals. It is not a small matter, this voting for the successor of St Peter. Whatever Pope Paul VI's reasons for changing the regulations to prevent over-80 cardinals to vote, Pope John Paul II was motivated by charity to keep the changes. "The reason for this provision," he explained in Universi Domini Gregis, "is the desire not to add to the weight of such venerable age the further burden of responsibility for choosing the one who will have to lead Christ's flock in ways adapted to the needs of the times."
Austen Ivereigh, who is blogging for us from Rome on the papal transition, is a British Catholic journalist, commentator and director of Catholic Voices (www.catholicvoices.org.uk). A former communications director to the Archbishop emeritus of Westminster (England), Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, he accompanied the cardinal to Rome in 2005 for the funeral of Pope John Paul II and election of Pope Benedict XVI. He is the author of "How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice" (OSV, $13.95).