Time for the Microculture

In 2005, while covering the conclave that elected Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, I told Laurie Goodstein at the New York Times:

Michelangelo's fresco of the Last Judgement inside of the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgement inside of the Sistine Chapel

“Do not underestimate the power of the microculture that is generated among the cardinals when they are together. The kind of reflections that end up influencing them are completely unpredictable.”

In other words, for the press, interest groups or lone wolf commentators, the party is over. No analysis or prognosis, no “to do list” for the next Pope, no interest group will have any impact on who gets elected as the next successor of Peter.

Other things, instead, will play a crucial role in the minds and hearts of the cardinal electors.

First, the cardinals will now follow a tight schedule of prayer (Mass, Morning prayer, Vespers, Rosary) and voting (four times a day) which takes up much of the day and leaves, contrary to what many people think, very little time to talk or “lobby.”

Instead, they have time after 8:30 p.m. to retreat to their rooms or to the roomy chapel at the residence of Santa Marta.

Most importantly, the cardinals will have long hours to contemplate Michelangelo’s Final Judgment and the ensemble of paintings at the Sistine Chapel:

Like John, Peter as well and the popes after him are sent by Jesus to preach conversion to men, because “the Kingdom of God is near.” These are the keys of Peter, this is the power of the Church. A power that stems from the creative act of God and will reveal itself fully in the end, in the Judgment of Christ upon men and upon the world.

“To place these keys in the right hands: this is the immense responsibility.” Looking at the paintings of the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals will be aware that their choice does not concern only the Church, but all of creation present and future.

The cardinals who will close themselves up in this space to elect the new pope cannot help but receive the imprint of the art that surrounds them. They cannot help but be overwhelmed by its extraordinary communicative power.

Of this as well is made the microculture that makes a conclave unique event.

From this as well will be born the selection of the successor of Benedict XVI.