In the age of twitter and instant online polls , it sounds unreal that a crowd of thousands stand awe struck, braving the rain and the cold , waiting patiently , looking at the rather ordinary chimney on an old building to announce result of a vote by a group of about a 100 plus senior citizens . But then that ordinary looking chimney is perhaps the most famous chimney of the world. Atop the Sistine chapel , this chimney is what will announce to the world that a new successor of Saint Peter and the Bishop of Rome , the pope , has been elected . This morning , there were hundreds of TV cameras zooming to this chimney and people were gathered at 6 am to watch the history being made . It’s not only media , the clergy or the people of Rome who are glued to this Papal conclave with great excitement . One finds many ordinary people from all over the world gathered to witness this big ticket entertainment here in Rome .
But then , there is a limit to the patience of the world which enthusiastically awaits the formal traditional announcement of Habemus Papam (We have a Pope). History tells us that when the conclave took too long to decide, it took bit more than divine intervention to hurry them up. In 1268, a papal conclave began that lasted nearly three years — 33 months to be precise . Pope Gregory X was elected pope, but not before residents of Viterbo, north of Rome, tore the roof off the building where the cardinals were staying and restricted their meals to bread and water to make them conclude . Hoping to avoid a repeat, Gregory decreed in 1274 that cardinals would only get one meal a day if the conclave stretched beyond three days, and served bread, water and wine if it went beyond eight. While the meals served these days at the Vatican's hotel are by no means gourmet, the cardinals won't go hungry — no matter how long they take picking a pope. Statistics however suggests that it will be around 3 days before we see the white smoke from the chimney .
Ever since the last Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, the media started flocking the city of Rome and since yesterday , it’s like a football match about to begin. Everything related to Vatican stir up a lot of interest from world media. The pope’s red Prada shoes or the secrets of Vatican archives , problems of the Vatican banks and of course the views of the Vatican on every subject possible . Dozens of movies , novels and documentaries have explored all kinds of happenings and conspiracy theories related to the Vatican . The Vatican and the church do not seem to mind the talk . I have a feeling that they even relish the bad publicity and the angry debates about their way of functioning. But then that is also perhaps a Papal tradition. The long line of popes over the centuries has perhaps the most number of juicy stories and scandals. Even the official tour guides of Vatican will not fumble while mentioning the atrocities of some medieval popes or the flamboyant and ostentatious life styles of some others. They will gleefully point out the portraits of Pope’s mistresses and illegitimate children decorating their historical buildings. There are no secrets about burning people at stake for their views or the washing of worldly sins in lieu of gold by some of the earthly representatives of God many centuries back . It is , however, very curious that though there is so much information about the ways of Vatican in public domain , the Vatican still remains a mystery . In fact even in Rome, not many know about the happenings behind those medieval walls of the world’s smallest sovereign nation. I find it fascinating how easily they accepted that perhaps mystery is also their connect to the generation who reads Dan Brown and JK Rowlings . There is no violent protest, no fatwa for boycott and of course they started a new guided tour after the Dan Brown book (Angels and Demons) . That is very very papal way of handling the bad publicity .
But ancient or modern, political or religious - elections are finally elections ! No wonder that the city is buzzing with the names of runners and the riders. The regions, languages spoken and even the colour of skin may play a role. There will be canvassing and discussions, prayers and meetings all around. The qualities that get a person elected are not always the best virtues in him but the vices of the others. In all probability with the 2/3rd vote needed it will be compromise candidate. In fact I read in a blog that it will actually have all the ingredients of the popular reality TV show Big brother. A bunch of oddballs locked in a big room incommunicado with the world and the rest of us watching obsessively. So the best man may not always win the race but at the end of the day, it will be as they say , the Winner takes it all !
St. Peters Square is a great place to hang around anytime of the day, even on a normal day . It’s a place of a fantastic mix of art and faith, legends and history . Who lives inside the apostolic palace, does not matter much to an ordinary person like me. Neither does it interest me much what are the views of this old man or his advisors. And yet, call it by any name – obsession, excitement or mere lack of work …..it is very interesting to be around the majestic Basilica of St Peters these days and watching the papal conclave creating yet another smoky chapter of Church history .