TMF Journey

Conclave beginning set.


by Paul L. Gleiser

(ROME) The process of actually selecting the successor to Pope Benedict XVI will get underway with the beginning of the conclave on Tuesday, March 12.

The 115 members of the College of Cardinals that are under the age of 80 will begin Tuesday morning with a pro eligendo Romano Pontifice (for the election of the Roman Pontiff) mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. They will then process into the Sistine Chapel to the accompaniment of a choir singing the Litany of the Saints. The Sistine Chapel door will be locked and the conclave will begin.

The locking in of the cardinal electors is what gives the process its name. Conclave is the Anglicized version of the Italian “con chiave,” literally, “with a key.” In ancient times it was sometimes difficult to get the College of Cardinals to bear down on actually selecting a pope. When it took from November 1269 to September 1271 to finally elect Pope Gregory X, the new pontiff instituted the practice of sequestering the cardinals in spartan conditions largely devoid of creature comforts.

At one time, the cardinal electors were literally not allowed to leave the Sistine Chapel until a pope had been selected. Today, however, there are apartments in which the cardinals eat and sleep. But there is no TV, no radio, no Internet and there are no phones. The cardinals are kept cut off from the outside world until their work is done.

No one expects a long conclave. The conclave to elect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany Pope Benedict XVI convened on the morning of April 18 and was over with the announcement of Ratzinger’s selection by 6:00 p.m. on April 19.