Tag: conclave

Book of the Year: Conclave

Wednesday, 21 December, 2016 0 Comments

With Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator, Robert Harris explained ancient Rome to an intrigued modern world. Now, he does it the same for the Vatican with Conclave.

As its title suggests, the novel is about a papal conclave. This one takes place sometime in a near future where the pope has died and the cardinals are gathering to elect his successor. All the classic elements of the English mystery novel format are here: a locked room, intrigue, rivalries, enmities, sex (!) and a surprise ending. Robert Harris writes about power, secular and religious, with an insight that places him beyond all his peers, and that’s why Conclave is our Book of the Year.

At the end of the aisle, where the nave gave on to the cupola of the dome, they had to pause beside Bernini’s statue of St. Longinus, close to where the choir was singing, and wait while the last few pairs of cardinals filed up the steps to kiss the central altar and descended again. Only when this elaborate manoeuvre had been completed was Lomeli himself cleared to walk around to the rear of the altar. He bowed towards it. Epifano stepped forward and took away the crozier and gave it to an altar boy. Then he lifted the mitre from Lomeli’s head, folded it, and handed it to a second acolyte. Out of habit, Lomeli touched his skullcap to check it was in place.

Together he and Epifano climbed the seven wide carpeted steps to the altar. Lomeli bowed again and kissed the white cloth. He straightened and rolled back the sleeves of his chasuble as if he were about to wash his hands. He took the silver thurible of burning coals and incense from its bearer and swung it by its chain over the altar—seven times on this side, and then, walking round, a separate censing on each of the other three. The sweet-smelling smoke evoked feelings beyond memory. Out of the corner of his eye he saw dark-suited figures moving his throne into position. He gave back the thurible, bowed again and allowed himself to be conducted round to the front of the altar. An altar boy held up the missal, opened to the correct page; another extended a microphone on a pole.

Once, in his youth, Lomeli had enjoyed a modest fame for the richness of his baritone. But it had become thin with age, like a fine wine left too long. He clasped his hands, closed his eyes for a moment, took a breath, and intoned in a wavering plainsong, amplified around the basilica:

“In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti . . .”
And from the colossal congregation arose the murmured sung response:
“Amen.”
He raised his hands in benediction and chanted again, extending the three syllables into half a dozen:
“Pa-a-x vob-i-is.”
And they responded:
“Et cum spiritu tuo.”
He had begun.

Conclave


The BBC wants white smoke — now!

Wednesday, 13 March, 2013 0 Comments

The black smoke was barely visible when the BBC headlined the result thus: “Cardinals deadlocked over next Pope.” The use of “deadlocked” there shows how absurd the media coverage of the conclave has become. How quickly people forget that the conclave of 1740, which ended with the election of Pope Benedict XIV, lasted from February 18 until August 17, a total of 181 days. In case the BBC does not understand what’s going on in Rome, this morning’s black smoke indicates that there have been three ballots so far without anyone getting the required 77 votes.

Along with impatience, the other hallmark of mainstream media coverage of the conclave has been the tireless output of stories about Vatican scandals and political intrigue. This has to be done to fill the industry’s maw, but it distracts from the bigger picture, namely that the Catholic Church is the world’s largest non-governmental organization, and its work in promoting international understanding, working for peace, and caring for the poorest of the poor is vital to global well-being. Sure, it is not always perfect in the pursuit of its aims, but it is fully engaged in parts of the world where states have failed.

The constant coverage of scandal and intrigue in the Vatican has become a staple of journalism today, but the Catholic Church cannot be reduced human weakness and power politics. For believers, the church is a divine as well as a human institution, one that is devoted to bringing peace and justice to the world. That’s why the election of a new Pope matters to non-Catholics as well as to Catholics. Given the importance of their task, the BBC should allow the Cardinals to take their time in making their choice. The confident prediction here is that we will have a new Pope tomorrow.

BBC News