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Black smoke: No pope yet

VATICAN CITY (AP) — This time there was no doubt. There was no new pope yet, and the mystery of who — and when — was as thick as the unmistakable heavy black smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel chimney.

As thousands waited in a cold night rain in St. Peter’s Square, the cardinals signaled Tuesday they had failed on their first attempt to find a leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and their troubled church.

“It’s black, it’s black, it’s waaay black!” screamed Eliza Nagle, a 21-year-old Notre Dame theology major on an exchange program in Rome, as the smoke poured from the 6-foot-high copper chimney at 7:41 p.m.

“They definitely got the color right this time,” agreed Father Andrew Gawrych, an American priest based in Rome, referring to the confusion over the smoke during the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

That was thanks to special smoke flares — akin to those used in soccer matches or protests — lit in the chapel ovens to make the burned ballots black, the sign that cardinals must come back for another day of voting Wednesday.

Tuesday’s drama unfolded against the backdrop of the turmoil unleashed by Benedict’s surprise resignation and the exposure of deep divisions among cardinals grappling with whether they need a manager to clean up the Vatican’s dysfunctional bureaucracy or a pastor who can inspire Catholics at a time of waning faith and growing secularism.

Surrounded by Michelangelo’s imposing frescoes portraying the beginning and the end of the world, cardinals locked themselves into the Sistine Chapel following a final appeal for unity by their dean and set about the business of electing the 266th pope.

With no cardinal winning the required 77 votes on the first ballot, the cardinals returned to the Vatican hotel for a simple dinner of pasta with tomato sauce, soup and vegetables before another day of voting Wednesday.

Benedict’s surprise resignation has thrown the church into turmoil and exposed deep divisions between Vatican-based cardinals and those in the field who have complained about Rome’s inefficiencies and indifference to their needs.

The leading contenders for pope have fallen into two camps, with Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, seen as favored by those hoping to shake up the powerful Vatican bureaucracy, and Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer favored by Vatican-based insiders who have defended the status quo.

Other names include Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who heads the Vatican’s powerful office for bishops and U.S. cardinals Timothy Dolan, the exuberant archbishop of New York, and Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston.

In a final appeal before the conclave began, the dean of the College of Cardinals, retired Cardinal Angelo Sodano, used his homily at a morning Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to urge unity. He asked that cardinals put their differences aside for the good of the church and the future pope.

“Each of us is therefore called to cooperate with the successor of Peter, the visible foundation of such an ecclesial unity,” Sodano said.

He was interrupted by applause from the public in the pews — not so much from the cardinals — when he referred to the “beloved and venerated” Benedict XVI and his “brilliant” pontificate.

Outside, the faithful gathered to await the outcome, with groups of nuns singing and playing the guitar, cheering the cardinals on.

“I don’t expect any quick fixes. There will always be problems,” said Sister Manaoag, a nun from the Philippines. “We have to not get stuck with seeing things like factions and problems, but see beyond that. What does God want? This is something we sometimes forget.”

Other pilgrims acknowledged the challenges facing the church.

“It’s a moment of crisis for the church, so we have to show support of the new pope,” said Veronica Herrera, a real estate agent from Mexico who traveled to Rome for the conclave with her husband and daughter.

Yet the mood was not entirely somber.

A group of women who say they are priests launched pink smoke from a balcony overlooking the square to demand female ordination — a play on the famous smoke signals that will tell the world whether a pope has been elected. Two topless activists from Femen, a Ukrainian feminist group, were dragged away by police. Femen activists have previously protested the Vatican’s opposition to gay marriage.

And in a bizarre twist, basketball star Dennis Rodman promised to be in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday in a makeshift popemobile as he campaigns for Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana to become the first black pope.

None of the cardinals will see it, since they will be sequestered inside the Vatican walls. They are allowed to travel only from the Vatican hotel through the gardens to the Sistine Chapel and back until they have elected a pope. No telephones, no newspapers, no television, no tweeting.

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