Unless you've been living under a rock, they chose a new Pope yesterday, Pope Francis I. I watched this particular conclave with interest, not because I'm Catholic, but because the book I'm currently writing takes place in Renaissance Italy, about a cook who was responsible for feeding several conclaves that had to choose a Pope. I wrote more about that in a previous blog post.
As part of my research I had to learn the whole process and some of the history of how a Pope is chosen. It's a truly fascinating process, one that is better documented over at The Pines of Rome. It's steeped in ritual, yet not that many in the Church or Rome know how it's all done. They mostly only know that white smoke from a chimney in the Sistine Chapel means they finally decided.
I watched the whole thing with rapt interest. I'm not a terribly religious person and I've got fairly strong views on a lot of things surrounding the Church, but this time around, the Papal election really grabbed me. Part of it is that the Pope is still such a force in the world so it's truly history in the making (especially since they decided to go beyond Europe this time around). I had hoped that it would be a leader that would truly bring positive change--protecting our children from pedophiles, considering the role of women in the church, more tolerance of homosexuality, etc. Stupid hope, but still, hope all the same. Part of my fascination is the swirl of Internet activity around it--as a social media professional I find the hyper-connected world fascinating. Part of it is learning how the modern election of the Pope has changed since the Renaissance, where my book is set.
I have to admit, I'm disappointed it happened so fast. I wanted it to drag out days or months or even years like the Papal Election of 1268-1271. The drama was absolutely fascinating. I loved the banter, the speculation, the humor (note the PEEP Popes --do click through to see the other photos!). I wanted to see what would happen to Easter if they couldn't elect one in time--what would the Catholic world do without their ear to God? What would happen to the economy, to world politics, to Rome itself? Now what will the Papal Smoke Stack tweet about? It was over too soon, IMHO.
Now comes a different, more serious sort of speculation. What will this new Pope do? Why can't we call him Pope Francesco which is what Francis is in the language he speaks? Will he make any sort of radical changes to the Church to move it forward? What does it mean that a South American Pope was chosen? Will this new Pope protect children from pedo priests? How much influence will Benedict continue to hold over the new Pope? Blah blah blah. The questions abound, but the speculation isn't nearly as much fun as when the Papabili were locked away in the Sistine Chapel.
One positive thing--the Vatican Museums will open back up again. Hopefully all those poor visitors to the Vatican will be able to get back in to see the Sistine Chapel soon, or at least the Raphael rooms. What a shame to be in Rome and not see those masterpieces!