Monday, August 25, 2008

Extra omnes!

Thirty years ago, on August 25, 1978, the Conclave of August 1978 was commenced to select a new Successor of Peter, following the death of Pope Paul VI.

Among the papabili (likely candidates to be pope), were Giuseppe Cardinal Siri of Genoa, Corrado Cardinal Ursi of Naples, Giovanni Cardinal Benelli of Florence, and Albino Cardinal Luciani of Venice. Going into the conclave, no one knew who would emerge as pope, but it was a near certainty that he would be an Italian -- no non-Italian had become pope since 1523.

There were 111 voting-eligible cardinals from five continents. Among the elector-cardinals were and Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Kraków, and the newly-elevated Joseph Ratzinger, Archbishop of Munich and Freising. It was summertime, and the conditions in the locked Sistine Chapel and the cells of the cardinals has been reported to be stifling hot.

Cardinal Leon J. Suenens, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, reported, "My cell was a kind of sauna. It is difficult to describe what is to sleep within a oven; it is enough to make somebody very ill. The only window was sealed hermetically. The second day, using all my strength, I broke the seals. Finally oxygen! Soon, the great day arrived. The first ballot had provided an ample rank of names. In the second one, it had been reduced a little. In the third one, we began to see the light of the dawn."

No votes were held that first day because the cardinals had filed into the Sistine Chapel late in the afternoon, and it was near evening before everyone else was ordered out and the electors were actually placed under lock and key. Before each round of voting the following morning, the cardinals reflected and prayed that the Holy Spirit guide them in the right direction. After each vote, one name began to stand out more and more -- Albino Luciani. However, the morning ended without a pope being selected. The white smoke would have to wait.


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