Friday, March 7, 2014
Nicole Winfield / The Associated Press
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A giant monitor in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, shows cardinals praying on Tuesday. Cardinals have begun the conclave to elect the next pope amid deep divisions and uncertainty over who will lead the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic church and tend to its many problems.
From left, U.S. Cardinals Roger Mahony, Edwin O'Brien and Timothy Dolan leave the North American College on Tuesday to go to the Vatican's Domus Sanctae Martae, the Vatican hotel where the cardinals stay during the conclave.
During the discussions, Vatican-based cardinals defended their administration against complaints that they have been indifferent to the needs of cardinals in the field, according to leaks from the proceedings in the Italian media. At one point on Monday, the Brazilian head of one Vatican office reportedly drew applause for challenging the Vatican No. 2, who has been blamed for most of the bureaucracy's administrative failings.
"Let us pray for the cardinals who are to elect the Roman pontiff," read one of the prayers during the Mass. "May the Lord fill them with his Holy Spirit with understanding and good counsel, wisdom and discernment."
In his final radio address before being sequestered, Dolan on Tuesday said a certain calm had taken hold over him, as if "this gentle Roman rain is a sign of the grace of the Holy Spirit coming upon us."
He said he at least felt more settled about the task at hand. "And there's a sense of resignation and conformity with God's plan. It's magnificent," he said during his regular radio show on SiriusXM's Catholic Channel.
One of the pilgrims in the crowds Tuesday alluded to 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 were dragged away from the edge of St. Peter's Square 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 church's 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.
The focus of the ritual is on the Sistine Chapel, the Michelangelo masterwork painted over the course of nearly 30 years starting in 1508, so astonishing Pope John Paul II that he called it "the sanctuary of the theology of the body."
The most famous frescoes are "Creation" is a series of nine frescos running the length of the ceiling, the most well-known of which is the "Creation of Adam," showing God and Adam, their fingers reaching out to one another. "The Last Judgment" fresco behind the altar depicts a muscular Jesus surrounded by naked masses ascending to heaven and falling to hell.
Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, once wrote that the images of the beginning and the end of creation weighed on him when he was an elector in the 1978 conclave that brought John Paul to the papacy.
"I know well how we were exposed to those images in the hour of the important decisions, how they challenged us and how they instilled in our souls the greatness of our responsibility," Ratzinger said in 2003, at the presentation of a book of poetry by John Paul about the Sistine frescoes.
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This picture made available by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano shows the urns where each cardinal will place his folded ballot after voting inside the Sistine Chapel during the conclave at the Vatican.
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The stoves where the ballots will be burned are shown inside the Sistine Chapel. A chimney will pipe out puffs of smoke to tell the world if there’s a new pope. Black smoke means “not yet.” White smoke means ‘’pope elected.” When Vatican firefighters hoisted the chimney to its perch, it was a visual cue that preparations for the conclave to elect retired Pope Benedict XVI’s successor were in high gear.
L’Osservatore Romano/The Associated Press