So Tuesday sees the beginning of the Conclave to elect a new Pope. In the morning the Cardinals will celebrate the Mass "For the Election of the Pope" in St Peter's Basilica. In the afternoon, they will process from the Pauline Chapel (a private Chapel of the Popes) through to the Sistine Chapel. After some preliminaries the traditional proclamation of "Extra Omnes" (Everybody out) will be made, and the doors shut. The Cardinals will then probably proceed to a first vote, carried out in silence, in an almost liturgical style. There is no discussion in the Sistine - that takes place before and between the voting sessions. On the following days there can be four votes, two each morning and two each afternoon. The Cardinals eat and sleep in the Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican, cut off from the outside world.
The voting continues until there is a two-thirds plus one majority (this time around 76 or 77). Then the individual is asked if he accepts the vote (he can say no, I suppose!), and on his acceptance, the white smoke goes up and the bells start to ring out. The new Pope retires to a side room to be fitted with one of three prepared white cassocks, and is then led out to the balcony over the door of St Peter's. "Habemus Papam" (We have a Pope) a senior cardinal proclaims, and then lets the world know who it is. And so we take off on another phase of the Church's journey through time.
About 50 years ago, far beneath the great dome of St Peter's the bones were found of a shortish stocky man in his 60s or 70s. The election of a Pope puts us directly in touch with Simon Peter and his calling by the Sea of Galilee. We belong to the Church of this weak, strong, sinful, faithful, denying and affirming man. And through him of course, we are in profound and mystical unity with Jesus, the Light of the World.
We are not just all one as Catholics across the world because we believe the same things (hopefully) or live the same way (even more hopefully). Our bonds are very concrete, through the unity we have with our Bishop, and the unity he has with all the other Bishops, gathered around the Bishop of Rome. So whoever the next one of those is, the next Pope, I will have a lump in my throat as the smoke goes up. Without someone occupying the See of Peter there is something missing, like a dad away at sea. We will have a new Father, and somehow the family will be complete again,