Conclave – Waiting for something to happen

I’ve lived for fifteen years in Rome – though not consecutively. But I’ve had the rather unique experience of being in Rome for the passing of four popes: Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and now Benedict XVI.

The atmosphere at each of these moments could not be more different. Paul VI’s funeral was a quiet affair: he died in mid-summer, and the Romans don’t easily give up their holiday time.  John Paul I seemed to come and go like a meteor. John Paul II’s funeral was nothing if not epochal; those who came for it knew they were witnessing a moment in history. But these days, in the lead-up to the Conclave, the atmosphere in Rome is quiet – people are waiting for something to happen.

Benedict’s low-key departure reflects how determined he has been to “de-personalize” the office of the Pope, stressing that it is a ministry, not a personality-based task.

But the local people find this hard. For a start, they’re not used – as the rest of the Catholic world is – to having a retired Bishop in their diocese.  One Roman said to me, “For us the Pope is like our father – and you don’t have two fathers in a family.”

The Italian people find it hard live through an event like this without being able to express emotions. There’s no funeral to weep at, no moments for eulogies or analyses, no chances for passionate exchanges of opinion.

Another significant factor that keeps the atmosphere rather sober is the fairly open talk of the need for an internal audit and cleaning of the workings of the Vatican Curia. Even some of the voting Cardinals are speaking openly of the need for reform and restructuring. Everyone knows that the next man has a humanly impossible task.

Fr.Craig Larkin is a New Zealand priest living in Rome

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