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Notre Dame prays for conclave, guidance

Julie Bender | Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Black smoke unfurled from the roof of the Sistine Chapel Monday, signaling to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square in Rome that deliberation about the next pope will continue beyond the first day’s vote. As the 115 cardinals isolated themselves in the conclave for more prayer and silent voting, over an ocean away, the Notre Dame community joined them in prayer.

Students and other members of the Notre Dame community gathered in the Basilica yesterday for a Mass led by Father Peter Rocca to celebrate the opening of the conclave and to pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit for the deciding cardinals.

“The conclave to elect the next pope which began [yesterday] is no doubt the most momentous event in recent Church history. We all know the impact that the pope, as the universal pastor of the Church, has on all of us both as Catholic Christians and as students, faculty and staff at a premier Catholic University like Notre Dame,” said Brett Perkins, the director of the Catholic Peer Ministry & Protestant Student Resources at Notre Dame.

Perkins said the next pope would face many challenges – an important reason for prayer.

“The proverbial shoes that the next pope will have to fill are enormous, and the great moral issues that he will face are daunting,” Perkins said. “For this reason, we gather to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the cardinals at the conclave, for their guidance in selecting a pope that will have the faith, courage and endurance to continue the work of John Paul II in leading the Church on into the 21st century.”

Those who attended the Mass not only prayed for the guidance of the cardinals selecting the new pope but also reflected on the life of the late Pope John Paul II and the contributions he made to the Church. Attendees were treated to history about the conclave’s purpose and the pope selection process during Rocca’s homily.

The conclave process – “conclave” meaning “with a key” in Latin – began due to the formerly slow process of selecting a new pope, Rocca said. At some periods in Catholic history it took up to three years to select a successor. In order to remedy the process, the tradition began of locking the deciding cardinals into a conclave – sometimes with only bread and water on which to survive – until a decision was made.

Today, of course, the cardinals receive more than bread and water, but amenities are still limited, Rocca said. Any form of outside communication is strictly prohibited, including telephones, radios, televisions, the Internet, letters and newspapers.

Smoke is sent up at least daily from the conclave, signaling whether a pope has been selected or not. Black smoke means that deliberation will continue, while white smoke means the pope has been chosen. Monday’s black smoke signifies that the 115 cardinals are still in the process of obtaining a two-thirds majority vote for the next pope.

“One cannot predict when the next pope will be elected,” Perkins said. “It’s all up to the cardinals, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Many scholars, however, anticipate an election within the first few days of this conclave.”

Whether the pope is chosen in the next few days or three years like it did in the 13th century, this papal succession is a new experience for those in the Notre Dame community who have only known one pope during their lives.

“I think the majority of students do realize how important this time is,” Perkins said. “No one in the history of the Church has ever made greater efforts [than Pope John Paul II] to be more present to the Christian people and more dedicated to tending his flock, no matter where in the

world they lived. The new pope will have his work cut out for him, and it is essential that we obtain a shepherd who will provide the unifying leadership that is needed to guide a billion-member organization like the Catholic Church.”

In the coming days, Notre Dame will remain in spirit and prayer with the cardinals in Rome, as well as with the larger world community.

“The ‘Mass of the Holy Spirit’ reflects Notre Dame’s participation in the larger Catholic Christian community around the world,” Perkins said. “We take time out of our hectic day to pray for those cardinals who will be electing our next universal pastor and shepherd.”

He said the significance of the Mass stretched far beyond the Basilica.

“It is important to all of us because we are members of a faith community that reaches far beyond the boundaries of this campus, the city of South Bend, the state of Indiana, and the United States of America,” Perkins said. “We are a part of a universal faith, and the decisions made in Rome this week will affect all of us in one way or another.”