Monday, January 15, 2007

The Process of Electing a New Pope

Anytime a Pope dies, or theoretically resigns, a new pope must be elected. There is a process which must be undertaken, many elements of which are quite secret. In this short essay, I will explore the process involved in electing a new Pope, and some interesting facts about it.

Around 12 to 15 days after a Pope dies, the cardinals of the church gather in Rome. Cardinals are bishops, who have been elevated to a special level of duty within the church. They sometimes advice the Pope on various issues, and play a special role in guiding people spiritually. They are called the Princes of the Church. You can tell they are cardinals because they wear distinctive red vestments. As a piece of trivia, the cardinal bird was named after Church Cardinals because their colour resembled the color of these churchmen.

Pope Paul VI changed some of the rules associated with electing a new Pope. One rule was that the cardinals electing the pope had to be less than 80. In the last election, about 118 out of the total 180 cardinals voted for the new pope. Some were too old and some were too ill to vote.

In order for a pope to be elected, two thirds of cardinals must be in agreement. John Paul II made a rule that if, after 7 votes, a pope is not chosen, a simple majority will do in electing the new Bishop of Rome.

Once a Pope is successfully elected, the public is informed of this by the emission of a smoke from the Sistine Chapel. If the smoke is black, no pope has been elected. If the smoke is white, a pope has been elected. The Sistine Chapel was designed by Michelangelo, and contains some very beautiful Biblical art. Also, large bells around the Vatican sound joyously.

Once the pope is elected, he is introduced to the public by the Senior Cardinal Deacon, who announces in Latin, "Habemus Papem", which means "We have a Pope!" This is accompanied by the applause of hundreds of thousands, as the new Earthly head of the Church is introduced.

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