March 10, 2013
Dear Abbot Gregory and Confreres, Msgr. Betschart and Colleagues, Seminarians and Students,
I just wanted to drop a short note before the conclave for the election of the new pope begins this Tuesday. I haven't anything special to report. I learn most of what I know like any among you who are following it, reading papers and the various websites. I think that, living in Rome in a place like Sant' Anselmo, one perhaps hears more about it than would be the case elsewhere. It is the main thing that everyone talks about virtually all the time. And the news comes in here in real time, so maybe I hear things a few hours earlier than you might at home. It is striking to see how much it is covered on the regular evening news and in the daily newspapers. There are many takes on the whole thing.
Cardinal Levada has been so good as usual in including me as he can. He had me to dinner last Sunday, just the two of us. That was the day before all the cardinals began their meetings. We spoke at length of how Pope Benedict's resignation affected us and how we should be thinking of his successor. He asked my thoughts on many things and generously said that it was all part of what the cardinals needed to be thinking about. He always tells me of his love for Mount Angel and his gratitude toward us. We enter the conclave in some small way through his high regard for us.
Today, Sunday, many of the cardinals went to their titular churches throughout the city to celebrate Sunday Mass and in this way to get the Romans to be praying earnestly for their new bishop. Cardinal Levada invited me to concelebrate with him at his titular church, Santa Maria in Navicella. I did that. It was a beautiful Mass on a quiet Sunday morning.
As the cardinals go into the conclave, there is no solid indication of who likely they will select as pope. Naturally people guess, and the guesses seem plausible, every one; and there are many. Proof that no one really knows. Another guessing game is when the white smoke will come puffing forth. Some say as early as Wednesday afternoon. Others, not until Thursday morning. Then others say, "No, much longer." As I say, no one really knows. Archbishop Fisichella invited me to dinner this Tuesday. Like most of us, he doesn't expect an election on this first day.
Life goes on as normal this week, but an ancient Roman custom will have the upper hand. As soon as the white smoke rises, everyone is permitted to drop what he or she is doing and run toward St. Peter's Square to see the new pope as he comes out for the first time onto the balcony to greet us and to give his blessing. In this way, lectures are suddenly cut short, meetings ended, buses stop in their tracks if they are not headed in the right direction, etc. I myself look forward to getting there as quickly as I can. Cardinal Levada will, of course, be in the conclave, but he has given some of us permission to be on the balcony at the time for an excellent overview of the whole. His secretary is scheduled to be on hand to let us in. I will try to be there . . . and then write home to tell about it. (It is supposed to rain all this coming week.)
We pray for the Church!
Peace to you all in Christ,