TMF Journey

Electing my second pope.

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by Paul L. Gleiser

(ROME) As technology made doing so possible, one of the first “big story” projects that we at KTBB took on was the 2005 conclave in Rome that elected Pope Benedict XVI. The technology was, by today’s standards, still primitive, even though eight years isn’t such a long time ago. The goal then, as it is now, was to do the best job we can of taking you there.

My wife, Lee, was with me on the trip in 2005. She was producer, fixer and grip. I was all alone on this excursion and I missed her terribly.

Here’s what happened on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 in Rome with some inevitable comparison to April 19, 2005.

The Rain

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Digital technology is a miracle. At one time, the major networks had to charter airplanes to fly film to New York so that it could be processed and edited before going on the air. All of that is now accomplished on a laptop computer with a  decent internet connection.

But the cameras cost money and I like cameras and using good ones in the rain is a bit nerve-wracking. I kept praying for the rain to stop. I kept thinking that I enjoyed the 2005 conclave so much more because my feet weren’t wet and I wasn’t worried about ruining my equipment.

It drizzled, then rained, then drizzled all day Wednesday.

The only way to be there to capture the moment when a pope is announced is to wait — twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon — with eyes fixed on that chimney atop the Sistine Chapel.

Even if it’s raining.

The Smoke

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In 2005, every time the ballots were burned, it was hard to tell if the smoke was white or black. The truth be told, it was grey. It started out grey and got greyer if it was black smoke. It started out grey and stayed grey if it was white smoke.

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Give the Roman Church credit. They have improved their smoke technology. According to the briefing this morning from the Holy See Press Office, they added a second stove, the newer square one, specifically to make colored smoke. They burn the ballots in the old stove. In the new, electronic stove (square one on the left), for black smoke they add potassium perchlorate, anthracene, and sulphur. For white smoke, they add potassium chlorate, lactose and resin. They use a cartridge of the appropriate chemicals containing five doses released over seven minutes. Voila! Blacker black smoke and whiter white smoke.

In prior conclaves, black pitch was mixed in with the ballots to make the black smoke. Wet straw was mixed in to make the white smoke.

The result was to vary the shade of grey. That led to great confusion and thus great consternation among journalists.

There was no confusion this time.

The Crowd

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The crowd in 2005 was nicer. This time I got pushed and shoved. That did not happen in 2005. I think standing for hours in the rain made the people a bit edgier than they otherwise might have been. But I also believe that manners are not getting better anywhere. “Me first” is not isolated to America. I’m finding it just about everywhere I go.

The Moment

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It’s a big deal. No two ways about it. The papacy is the longest-standing human institution on Earth, bar none. Anyone who can claim to hold sway over 1.2 billion human beings is a pretty big man. The pope is a world figure and when a man is given the title and responsibility, it’s a moment. Seeing it happen on the magnificent piece of real estate that is St. Peter’s Square is something you never forget.

The Catholic Church

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I’m not Catholic. I’m a Methodist.

Still, I find myself rooting for the Catholic Church. Everyone who professes a Christian faith is descended from the church in Rome. For all of the faults of the Roman Church, and they are numerous, at its core the Catholic Church has been an institution dedicated to elevating humans that they might become more worthy of their belief in having been created in God’s own image. The Christian faith in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, has, among other things, chastened its believers. The authority of the church mitigated the baser instincts of man. The teachings of the church have sought to summon our better angels.

As the church has forfeited moral  authority due to ineptitude and self-inflicted wounds such as the clergy abuse scandals, nothing really good has rushed in to fill the resulting vacuum. (See the observation on the crowd above.)

I also believe that to the extent that the Roman Church suffers a loss of respect, that loss of respect negatively impacts all Christian congregations. For most of the world, Catholicism is Christianity.

Thus, I wish Pope Francis well. I’d like to see the Catholic Church get some of its mojo back.

Finally, here’s the report I filed to run on KETK Channel 56 in Tyler this evening. It’s a brief look at what it was like in and among the crowd on St. Peter’s Square when a new pope was announced.


A quick primer on St. Peter’s Square.

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by Paul L. Gleiser

(ROME) Almost 100 years after a four-thousand year old Egyptian obelisk was placed at this site, the Italian Renaissance genius Gian Lorenzo Bernini was given the task of making the forecourt of St. Peter’s Basilica worthy of the basilica itself.

At the direction of Pope Alexander VII, Bernini took the obelisk and a fountain to the right of the obelisk as you look at the facade of the basilica, and created a massive space so that “the greatest number of people could see the pope give his blessing.”

The Colonnades

The view of St. Peter's Square as seen from the cupola atop the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

The view of St. Peter’s Square as seen from the cupola atop the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

From 1656 to 1667, Bernini created the colossal piazza using matching Tuscan colonnades, each four columns deep. The colonnades are symmetrical and encircle the piazza from the north and the south sides. They semi-circular colonnades represent the embrace of the “maternal arms of Mother Church.”

To keep the symmetry created by the colonnades, Bernini created a fountain to match Carlo Maderno’s fountain of 1513, and placed it to the left of the obelisk as you look at the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica.

A grand avenue is formed in the space between the second and third rows of columns in the colonnade.

A grand avenue is formed in the space between the second and third rows of columns in the colonnade.

The Paving

In order that the square not be a sea of cobblestones, the paving is varied by radiating lines of travertine. In 1817 circular stones set to mark the tip of the obelisk’s shadow at noon as the sun entered each of the signs of the zodiac. There are also circular stones to mark the equinoxes and the solstices, effectively turning the square and the obelisk into a giant sundial.

The Obelisk

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Standing at 135 feet from base to cross on top at the center of St. Peter’s Square is an Egyptian obelisk.

“I’ll meet you at the obelisk,” is heard dozens, if not hundreds of times per day in Rome. Any Roman who hears those words knows exactly where to meet.

The obelisk was originally erected at Heliopolis by an unknown pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty (c. 2494 BC – 2345 BC). The emperor Augustus had the obelisk brought to the Julian Forum in Alexandria, where it stood until 37 AD.

The emperor Caligula ordered it moved to Rome and had it placed in the center of the Circus of Nero.

Under the direction of Pope Sixtus V, the obelisk was moved to its current site in 1586. The Vatican Obelisk is the only obelisk in Rome (and there are close to 100) that has not toppled since ancient Roman times.

One hundred years later, Bernini used the obelisk as the center of his colossal square.

"I'll meet you at the obelisk."

“I’ll meet you at the obelisk.”

Via della Concilliazione

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The approach to St. Peter’s Square from Castel St. Angelo was dramatically revised by Mussolini starting in 1936. The buildings that obscured the view of St. Peter’s were demolished and the avenue that runs from the Tiber River at Ponte St. Angelo to the opening of St. Peter’s Square was created.

Finished in 1950, the Via della Concilliazione (Road of the Conciliation) was intended to honor the Lateran Treaty of 1929, which gave formal recognition to the city state of Vatican City and ended decades of tension between the Holy See and the Italian government.

Here’s the story that we ran on KETK NBC 56.


Images: St. Peter’s Basilica & Sistine Chapel.

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The buildings, art and sculpture of St. Peter’s are among the most iconic images in the world. Here are some photos from the largest church in all of Christendom as it prepares to elect a new Supreme Pontiff.

Photos by Paul L. Gleiser

(Click on first image. Then navigate with embedded left and right arrows at the edges of each image.)


Taking you on the inside.

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by Paul L. Gleiser

(ROME) One of the things we are able to accomplish by covering a story like the election of a new pope is to take you places that would be hard, or even impossible to get to, without the kind of credentials that members of the media often have the privilege to obtain.

That’s precisely what we did Saturday afternoon in Rome in advance of the conclave to elect a new pope set to begin on Tuesday.

Special feature: Take an interactive 360° Virtual Tour of the Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel

If you are ever a tourist in Rome, the Sistine Chapel is a must-see. The chapel gets its name by virtue of having been commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV. The first mass was celebrated in the chapel on August 9, 1473.

The Sistine Chapel is famous for two things: its frescoed ceiling and altar wall, both by Michelangelo, and as the room in which popes are selected.

The Sistine Chapel has been closed to the public for over a week as workers prepare for the conclave that begins Tuesday, March 12. But selected members of the media were given access to the interior of the Sistine Chapel even as preparations were underway.

So here is a little tour of the most famous chapel in the world as it prepares to again take part in the selection of a new pope.

Michelangelo’s Famous Ceiling

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The Sistine Chapel is rather plain on the outside. It is inside that it stands apart from all other places of worship. That fact is largely attributable to Michelangelo.

Michelangelo was a sculptor. So he said as loudly and as vehemently as he could. Pope Julius II, though having commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt his funeral monument, was having none of it. In 1508, the pope insisted that Michelangelo sign a contract to begin work on the fresco that would replace the depictions of constellations that had adorned the chapel since its completion 27 years earlier.

It was backbreaking work for Michelangelo. Fresco is not painting. Paint is the application of pigment to a surface. Fresco is coloring the very material that forms the surface.

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In order to execute the ceiling fresco, Michelangelo constructed a scaffold and worked on his back day-in and day-out for the four year s it took to complete the work.

The image shown here is one of the most famous scenes from the Sistine ceiling. Called The Creation of Adam, it is one of nine scenes from the Old Testament that form the heart of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The Last Judgment

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Some 20 years after completing the ceiling, Michelangelo was again conscripted, this time by Pope Clement VII, to execute a fresco in the Sistine Chapel. This time, the art was to adorn the wall behind the altar.

The Last Judgment was begun in 1536 and finished in 1541.

In this scene, we see a beardless, muscular Christ having come again to fulfill the promise and rendering God’s final judgment of humanity. To his right go those who have earned salvation. To his left are those condemned to eternal damnation.

The Conclave

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It is with the figure of Christ in God’s final judgment staring down upon them that the 115 Cardinal Electors will choose a new pope. After having processed up the stairway shown above into the Sistine Chapel, and having processed up this ramp past the  transenna or screen (there to separate pilgrims and worshippers from the pope and other members of the clergy) to sit in four rows, two on either side of the chapel.

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Once inside, the Latin words extra omnes are pronounced, meaning, “everybody out.”

The conclave then begins. (Conclave is the Anglicized word for the Italian, con chiave, meaning with key. It means the cardinal electors are locked in.)

The White Smoke and the Black Smoke

Most know that when a ballot of the cardinals is taken, those standing on St. Peter’s Square or watching on TV around the world will see either black smoke or white smoke emerge from the chimney that is put in place atop the Sistine Chapel especially for papal conclaves.

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Know one is to ever know how any particular cardinal voted. Once ballots are counted, they are threaded onto a string and the string of ballots is thrown into this furnace, also put in place especially for conclaves.

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Then, substances are added to affect the color of the resulting smoke up the chimney. Black smoke for no pope, white smoke for Habemus Papam, “We have a pope.”