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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Via della Concilliazione
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.
by Paul L. Gleiser
(ROME) In what might be interpreted by some as allegorical representation of the clouds hanging over the Catholic Church, the conclave to elect Pope Benedict’s successor got underway here in Rome under cloudy, occasionally rainy skies.
If there are clouds hanging over the church and if today’s weather is metaphorical, then the good news is that patches of blue sky showed themselves from time-to-time and the rain was not continuous. It really wasn’t all that bad at all.
Here is the scene on St. Peter’s Square as the Papal Conclave got underway.
by Paul L. Gleiser
(ROME) It was at one time unthinkable that an American could be elected pope. But according to La Repubblica, the largest daily newspaper in Italy, there is such discontent on the part of the non-Roman cardinals against the Roman cardinals that a dark horse candidate could emerge.
One such dark horse mentioned by the paper is Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
Father Thomas Reese discussed the anti-Roman Curia sentiment in my interview with him Saturday.
by Paul L. Gleiser
(ROME) Father Thomas J. Reese is a Jesuit scholar and one of the “go to” experts on the Vatican. His 1996 book “Inside the Vatican” is an indispensable reference for anyone studying or covering the internal workings of the Catholic Church.
Father Reese is very candid in his assessments of the state of the Roman Catholic Church and the considerable challenges that will be faced by the man the Cardinal Electors here in Rome choose to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
Father Reese was kind enough to give us some time over the weekend in advance of Tuesday’s beginning of the conclave to select the next pope.
Note: Apologies from the interviewer. Logistics dictated the use of only one microphone. Questions are shown on the screen in text to aid the viewer.
by Paul L. Gleiser
(ROME) Tourists wait for hours in order to gain only a few minutes inside the Sistine Chapel. But the process of choosing a new pope puts Catholic cardinals under the age of 80 behind locked doors and under the ceiling created by Michelangelo for hours on end.
Just as it was in 1508 when Michelangelo’s scaffolds afforded him access to the ceiling, the Sistine Chapel was again a jobsite the weekend before the beginning of the papal conclave.