Life on Hold


Jenny Uebbing writes about the excitement and mystery surrounding the papal conclave and the impending papal election.

We have plans to spend the next however many days it takes (1 more, by my official bracket position), making twice daily pilgrimages to St. Peter’s Square to smoke watch with a couple thousand of our best friends. Today’s itinerary has been completely designed around trips to the Square at noon and at 7:30, in fact, and I have every intention of picking up a bottle of Prosecco to stash in the stroller basket just in case we need to pop open a bottle of celebration.

Last night I was blown away to see how jammed the piazza was, even in the cold drizzle that had been falling on and off throughout the day. There were easily 20-30 thousand people there, all craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the world’s most famous chimney stack. Luckily for us, we had a stellar view of both the roof of the Cappella Sistina and the jumbotron screen, where a camera was trained on a (thankfully) lighted stove pipe.

As the first wisps of smoke started to emerge from the chimney, the crowds shifted and I couldn’t see the screen for about 10 seconds. But I didn’t need to; the universal "Oohhhhh nooooo’s" were enough to tell me that a new Papa wasn’t in the cards—or on the ballots, rather—for last night.

It was such an incredible energy, to be surrounded by all these happy, hopeful people—all drawn either by curiosity, faith, the lure of celebrity, or maybe a mixture of the three. There aren’t too many watershed historical moments which are scheduled and predictable, you know. The fact that we have a printed timetable for when the smoke will make its appearance is equal parts ridiculous and awesome.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Conclave schedule, here is a brief sketch of smoking times:

  • Morning session and first vote: around 10 am. (Note: smoke will only appear if a new Pope has been elected. If the morning session fails to produce a 2/3rds majority, nothing is burned.)
  • Second vote: around 12:00 noon. At this point there will DEFINITELY be smoke, either black or white, as they will burn the ballots from both morning sessions at this point, adding the necessary chemicals to produce either black or white smoke. Black smoke, no pope; white smoke, new pope.
  • Afternoon session and first vote: around 4:00 pm, producing smoke around 5:30 pm IF a new pope is elected.
  • Final evening session: around 7:30 pm, producing smoke either way, as again, ballots from both afternoon sessions will be burned at this time.

So, does that make sense? Though there are 4 possible times per day to see smoke, there are only 2 times per day we will definitely see smoke.

Be sure to tune in to EWTN live stream to see it for yourself!

Written by Jenny Uebbing

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