Monday, April 04, 2005

On A Disappointing Peek into the Conclave's Accomodations

I expected big things from this article, based on its headline: "Lavish Accommodations for Arriving Cardinals". Despite being a time of certain mourning for a billion people around the world, the average person's curiosity about this small group of old men called from all around the globe to elect Peter's sucessor is still going to be piqued. This is especially true, here, in the United States, where our particular religious and social history has produced an aura of superstition and mystery around the Church and its shadow and whispered filled confessionals, past indulgences, and O, magnum mysterium belief in bread turned to body.

With all the talk of a cardinal conclave meeting underground to elect a new pope, I have been quick to keep an ear open for any discussion of the Church hierarchy--endless rolling seas--or Church customs like hammers and name-calling. So, it was with an eager eye that I turned to the article's text.
VATICAN CITY, April 4 - Inside the sunlit lobby, with its polished marble floors and a reception desk blanketed by pages of guest lists, the Casa Santa Marta looks like any other lavish hotel in Rome.

But a bronze bust of Pope John Paul II greeting visitors who enter through the hotel's sliding glass doors gives a strong indication that this is no ordinary inn.
An excellent beginning. Here we are, inside the lobby of the cardinal's nest, surrounded by description we can all conjure up an imagined scene with. But, wait. We are promised much more that that, for there is "strong indication that this is no ordinary inn." Aha! It seems that the reporter is going to tap into the commonplace topic of a Church distancing itself from the humble origins and life of Christ by way of its adoration of lavish cloth and stone. No ordinary inn, indeed. Perhaps a little too 1932, but I'm sufficiently "hooked" by the lead, and eager to read.
The 117 cardinals arriving from around the world to elect John Paul II's successor would need a place to stay, so the pope built them a $20 million hotel behind the Vatican's guarded gates. From Casa Santa Marta, the cardinals have only a short stroll or ride, behind St. Peter's Basilica and to the Sistine Chapel, where the voting will be done.
Hmmm. Okay, just a little background information that establishes the need for a hotel--and a seemingly expensive one (though, not Sin City expensive), too. I can take that.
This morning, the pale brick, five-story building seemed poised to receive its special guests. The antique tables with their gold leafed legs were dusted and polished. A small elevator stood ready to lower the more elderly and infirm cardinals to the lobby, below a small flight of stairs. A black placard indicated the dining room in three languages.
All right, here I am, back in the lobby knowing just a little more detail. I want more, Jason Horowitz! Take me deep into the whale's belly.
Yet for all its opulent touches and doting service (chefs, doctors and priests to hear confessions are all on call) the actual revolutionary changes of the Casa Santa Marta are tucked in the hotel's nearly 110 suites and score of single rooms.

"Miracle at the Conclave: The cardinal will have a shower," said a headline in the Italian magazine Espresso last year.
Yes! Here it is, take me into the room I will never see--a cardinal's bed chamber. Tell me about the tapestry, the gilt frames around mirrors. Tell me about how silent it all is, filled with material but lacking soul. Tell me about the showers that will wash away dirt but never sin.
According to the strict rules of the Vatican, if two-thirds of the cardinals fail to agree on a single candidate by the end of the second week of the conclave, a simple majority of ballots will have to do.
Nooooooo! I feel like Christopher Reeve's character in Somewhere in Time, right after he sees the penny and is achingly ripped back from the past into the present. What is this about strict Vatican rules?! I know there are rules. And, since it's the Vatican, I can assume that some strictness will be involved.
That could tempt some cardinals to stall until their preferred candidate gains enough support within the college to win more than half of the vote and ascend to the throne of Peter.

But after years of having a sick pope at the helm of the Roman Catholic Church, many Vatican observers believe that the cardinals will want to quickly move on and tackle the raft of pressing issues facing the church.

In the past, however, they needed plenty of prodding.

In 1271, after the papal throne had been vacant for three years, anxious Catholics locked the indecisive cardinals up in a crumbling building and put them on a strict diet of bread and water. For an extra dose of motivation, the roof was removed from above their heads, and after three months of rain and harsh sunshine, the cardinals elected Pope Gregory X.
The past, Mr. Horowitz, this is the past. The time is now, however, and your headline promisesd--so long ago--discussion of the present. Trust me, you don't need to tell us about the way things were, except in passing on your way to tell us the way things are now. We will take it on ... ... that things were not so glamorous in the Dark Ages.
Conditions had improved by 1978, the year of the last conclave, but compared to the lifestyle that most cardinals are used to, the shelter was still pretty shabby.

Beds were on loan from a local missionary college; the lamps were too weak to read by. The extent of the luxuries were a washbasin and some soap, some notepaper and a desk to write on.

Cardinal Silvio Oddi of Italy often complained about the hardships of conclave housing.

"The Cardinals are almost all old, with prostate problems, tired, with a bathroom for every ten people. I slept near the toilette, but I saw these poor old people crossing 70 meter corridors to get to the bathroom, which they found occupied," Cardinal Oddi, who is now dead, was quoted as saying by Espresso.

"Such pain, and what a humiliation. The cardinals had to make their own beds."

Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, the late archbishop of Genoa, also found much to be desired during his stay in Rome. He referred to his quarters during the brutal Rome summer of August 1978 as an "airless tomb." He was evidently not the only one who felt that way. The election lasted all of a day before the cardinals elected Pope John Paul I.
1978! Poignant tales of prostates! All this does is lay the foundation for a visit to today's remarkably contrasting rooms; rooms filled with luxuries my little Protestant mind could only imagine while looking forlornly at my non-stained glass church windows. Please, I implore, a peek for my piqued interest!
Today, the College of Cardinals held its first meeting in the nearby Apostolic Palace to decide when and where John Paul II will be buried. But in the Casa Santa Marta the phone kept ringing with people looking for them.

"No, there are no cardinals here," the exasperated receptionist yelled.
And that is not the only thing missing, today.

Update: They have changed the headline and cut the last couple of paragraphs. Perhaps they read my commentary! Have you?


Anonymous jason said...

how close do you want to be? by the crapper next to him?

4/06/2005 2:42 AM  

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