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.