John Allen in Rome: By now, we've all heard of several men who could become pope. But how did we arrive at that conclusion?
Now that my "Papabile of the Day" series is over, several readers have asked if there were cardinals who just missed the cut, meaning contenders I would have liked to profile if time had permitted, even if I regard them as long shots.
At one level, I'm tempted to say I would have liked to profile all 115 electors, so no matter what happens I can't possibly be wrong!
Seriously, however, there are a few plausible candidates I would have liked to get into the mix had not the clock run out.
Rome dispatch: Today, the cardinals focused on the rituals involved with conclave, including what the smoke announcing the new pope's election will look like.
As a few night owls strolled through the crisp Roman evening Feb. 28, they were illuminated by one less reflection of lights. Behind the northern side of the square’s iconic colonnades, the apostolic palace was dark.
In a small but tell-tale sign of the transition facing the church, the lights of the pope’s apartment had been turned off.
Eight years ago, when the cardinals of the world gathered to elect a successor to Pope John Paul II, their watchword was “continuity.” Buoyed by the massive outpouring of grief and affection for the late pope that washed through the streets of Rome, they felt they had just witnessed the end of a massively successful pontificate, and they wanted to keep the momentum going.
The man who was the intellectual architect of John Paul’s papacy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, therefore seemed an obvious choice.
If it hasn’t happened by the time you are reading this newspaper, sometime very soon the Catholic church will have a new pope. Naturally the world will be waiting to find out what kind of leader he’s likely to be, and his first few days therefore loom as critical moments to begin shaping his papacy.
Journalists are often derided as a fairly un-churched bunch, but yesterday the 5,000-plus reporters covering the conclave swelled the churches of Rome to catch a glimpse of cardinals saying Mass, hoping to pick up some hint of what to expect when things get underway tomorrow.
On that front, probably the most interesting insight came from Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France.
In the overheated atmosphere of the pre-conclave period, and in the absence of polling data or any other empirical sign of which way things are trending, absolutely everything is scrutinized as a possible hint of who the next pope might be.
If an overseas cardinal says Mass in Italian, it’s taken as a sign that he’s trying to prove he could be Bishop of Rome; if two cardinals are seen together drinking coffee, it can spark a volcano of speculation about possible coalitions.
Papabile of the day: There's an Asian possibility who hasn't yet received much attention: Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay (Mumbai) in India.
Rome dispatch: Photos from inside the specially renovated Sistine Chapel, where the church's cardinals will select the new pope.