Saturday, February 23, 2013



Grandma, what's going on in the Catholic Church? I've seen news stories on TV about Pope Benedict XVI resigning next week, February 28. Why is he doing that?”

“The Pope apparently is not in good health and believes he is losing his strength and capability because of his age. He doesn't think he is well enough to be responsible for all the matters that concern the billions of Catholics all over the world.”

Is the Pope older than you, Grandma? Do popes resign when they get old?”

“No, I am two years older than the Pope. He is only 85. Pope Benedict was already 78 when he was elected pope. In the past two thousand years since Jesus founded the Catholic Church and appointed the apostle Peter as the first leader of the Church, popes usually remained in office until they died.”

Pope John Paul II, the pope before Pope Benedict, stayed pope until he died, didn't he? I was about 5 years old then and don't remember much about it but I've seen videos.”

“Pope John Paul was 84 when he died and very ill and weak with Parkinson's disease, but he showed us how to die courageously and faithfully. He didn't think God wanted him to resign.”

Did any of the popes in history ever resign?”

“Six hundred years ago Pope Gregory XII resigned, but no one since. It's in the laws of the Catholic Church, however, that a pope may resign.”

How will we get another pope?”

“The College of Cardinals....”

Grandma, is that a school—like a college? I know they are leaders in the Church who wear red clothes and red hats, but tell me again what is a Cardinal?”

“Jeffrey, the word 'college' here simply means a group of all the Cardinals from everywhere in the world. They were usually Bishops first, and can only be appointed by a Pope. They live in their own countries unless a Pope calls them together for a conference to advise him about Church matters. They really have no ruling power except the really big responsibility God has given them to elect a successor to the pope if he dies or resigns.”

How many Cardinals are there?”

“209 at present, but only those under 80 can vote for a new pope. They can be present but are not allowed to vote. So only 118 will actually vote.”

Was Pope Benedict a Cardinal before he was elected pope?”

“Yes, and his birth name was Joseph Ratzinger. When a man is elected pope he chooses a different name that has some special meaning to him. Usually it is a similar name to a previous pope but with a different number behind it. Like Pope Benedict was the sixteenth pope to be called Benedict.”

Do the Cardinals have to choose a pope from among themselves?”

“No, but they usually have done so. By Church law, I think that any unmarried Catholic man from anywhere in the world can be elected pope, even if he is not present at the time of their Conclave.”

Is 'Conclave' what they call that special meeting of Cardinals?”

“Yes, they will assemble in Rome, Italy and represent all the Catholics on earth when they elect a new pope.”

Where will they meet?”

“In the famous, beautiful Sistine Chapel in the Vatican State. There will be strict security and when they are all inside, the door will be locked and they must stay inside until they have elected a new pope. Each Cardinal will have a private room and private bath. Only 70 authorized people like doctors, cooks, and those with special duties can come and go.”

No TV, radio, cell phones, Iphones, or other communication?”

“Nope. Totally isolated. The Conclave usually lasts only a few days until an election is final.”

When will the Conclave start?”

“Apparently before the middle of March, when all the Cardinals will have arrived from other countries. We should have a new pope before Easter this year.”

How do they decide who to elect?”

“They pray a whole lot and can talk among themselves but no one is supposed to put any pressure on anyone else to influence their choice. They are to ask the Holy Spirit to guide them to the right person whom God wants to be the successor of the apostle Peter to guide the worldwide Catholic Church.”

Do they have a voting machine like when people elect a president or community officials?”

“No, they vote by secret ballot on a blank white card where they write the name of the person they feel should be the next pope. There are usually 4 ballots a day until a consensus is reached of two-thirds plus one for a name agreed upon.”

What's that thing about smoke from the Chapel chimney?”

“It seems kind of old fashioned, but it is traditional through the centuries. The ballots are burned twice a day to create smoke coming out of the chimney. Previously they would mix wet straw with the paper ballots to create the color of smoke. Now they use some chemicals. If they have elected a pope, the color of the smoke is white. If no decision has yet been reached, the smoke is black or dark. Hundreds of thousands of people are waiting outside in Saint Peter's Square for the announcement.”

How exciting that's going to be! And everybody will be able to see it on TV as soon as it happens. Then what goes on?”

“Bells throughout Rome will begin to ring and eventually a Church official will come out on the balcony of the Vatican and announce in Latin, “Habemus papam!” (We have a Pope!) Eventually the new pope will appear dressed in his new papal vestments. He will wave to the people for a long time during all the shouting and cheering and celebrating. Then he will address the people with a speech for the first time and announce the special name that he has taken for his pontificate.”

Since Pope Benedict didn't die but resigned, what will he do from now on?”

“He says he will spend his time in private praying for God's will to be done in the world and for all of us. He will live in a small monastery in the Vatican gardens. Since a pope has never resigned in this way before, there are a lot of details we won't know right away.”

Will he be known as Joseph Ratzinger again?”

“It seems that he will resume being a Cardinal and possibly take back his birth name, but those things are not certain. He has been a wonderful spiritual shepherd with a brilliant mind and significant accomplishments for the Catholic Church worldwide. He will be remembered especially as a writer of many important books on theology, Church teachings, and especially his recent three scholarly books on the 'Life of Jesus of Nazareth.' We need to continue to pray for him.”

And let's pray for the new pope whoever God wants elected. Guess there could be some big surprises. Wow! This is history making stuff in 2013!”

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