|Sr. Joan Chittister: An American Catholic in Rome|
Posted April 11, 2005 at 3:37 p.m. CDT
The purpose of the interregnum
By Joan Chittister, OSB
Rome, the city that just yesterday was one long pile of empty water bottles, old newspapers and plastic bags from the banks of the Tiber to the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica is quiet today. The papal crypt is still closed to visitors so the 300,000 tourists that packed into St. Peter’s Square and the other almost two million packed along the tiny side streets for the funeral have gone home. The regular masses of mourning, with much smaller crowds in attendance, have begun.
Journalists, of course, from every part of the world packed up their equipment and took down their klieg lights before St. Peter’s Square had even emptied–many of them racing against time between a papal funeral in Italy and a royal wedding in England. Piazza Navona, the natives tell you with a sigh of relief, belongs to the backpackers again.
It’s raining a miserably cold April mist here, and the chairs of the sidewalk cafes are sodden and empty.
Everything is back to normal. Almost. Except for one thing. There is an empty feeling in the air, a kind of Holy Saturday moment when the church is open but the tabernacle is empty.
The fact is that the lights are still out in the Papal apartment overlooking the Square. The Cardinals–and the world–are still facing one of the most suspense-ridden conclaves of modern history. And the Vatican, that secrecy capital of the world which insisted that journalists who wanted to know what scripture readings would be used at the Papal funeral needed a password for the Vatican website in order to get them, has ‘invited’ journalists not to interview Cardinals about the kind of pope they think world needs now.
One priest on a BBC “Sunday Morning Show” defended the situation as Rome’s “not wanting to politicize a spiritual event” –a worthy motive–because they were ‘seeking the will of God”–a not so worthy explanation of this new turn of affairs if it is meant to imply that the rest of the world, simply because it wants to hear some discussion of the question, does not. Whoever is elected will be the Pope of the whole church, after all, not simply the Pope of the curia. People want to talk about it. Or, as a friend of mine once said, “A papal interregnum is the only time in which Catholics get to be adults.”
What must be remembered, however, is that papal elections are almost routinely exercises in balancing the ‘will of God’ from one era to the next. One papacy, history demonstrates, is almost never a clone of the one before it. On the contrary. Every papacy creates its own questions and unresolved issues. Consequently, most new papacies become answers to the unanswered questions or dissonant issues of the papacy before it.
The three major characteristics of this past papacy were voice, outreach and
centralized authority. All over this town tonight-- around the world,
perhaps--people are naming the issues they believe must emerge in a new papacy
if the unfinished business of the church is ever to be brought back into
balance. And I bet you are, too. So let’s.
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