I just got back from a meeting where Cardinal George gave his impressions from the past few weeks in Rome. I also got a couple of minutes with him for a "Nunblog" exclusive interview: wouldn't you know it, the batteries in my little video camera decided that they really didn't want to be involved, so I got a 30-second clip and two even shorter ones (3 seconds, anyone?). Ah, well. Technology!
The Cardinal spoke of the conclave as an exercise of freedom, in two senses:
The freedom of the electors: while the media had the Cardinals allocated to various "camps" or "blocs" according to nationality or presumed interests (the "reformers" and the "curialists"; the "Italians" and the "Americans," etc.), the electors were making the effort to transcend those short-term motivations that are really limits; personal or national limitations. Even the curial cardinals, so often portrayed as a defensive group apart, were as diverse as any others among them. "We would read the papers [about these presumed "voting blocs"] and laugh," Cardinal George remarked.
The other dimension of freedom involved is the freedom of the papacy: that the Pope will be able to protect the freedom and independence of the Church. Related to this, he spoke of the way Pope Pius XII had provided for this freedom under the stress of World War II. The Pontiff had prepared a note: "Effective the moment I am taken prisoner, arrested or transported from Rome, I resign the Petrine ministry." The Nazis might indeed have taken Eugenio Pacelli into custody, but they would not have had the Pope in their hands.
The Cardinal mentioned the "Adopt-a-Cardinal" program, saying that they got letters from Germany, Asia, from all around the world from people who were praying for them individually.
An interesting historical note: While I had heard that it was Pope Pius V, a Dominican, who introduced the Dominican white robes into the papal clothes closet, I did not realize that before then, Popes wore the same red as the Cardinals; the red of the Roman senate which they had come to replace. Hence, the red shoes Pope Benedict made so famous. (John Paul favored basic brown loafers.)
I also learned about the distinctions within the College of Cardinals itself. I had heard the "ranks" of Cardinal-Bishop, Cardinal-Priest, Cardinal-Deacon, but had no clue how these honorifics were assigned. Cardinal George said that the Cardinal-Bishops are assigned to the cities in the Roman region; the Cardinal-Priests are for the most part bishops of major dioceses, with the "title" to one of the parishes of Rome. (Cardinal George's parish is San Bartolomeo all'Isola.) The Cardinal-Deacons are, for the most part, the Cardinals of the Roman Curia (Vatican offices) and have as their "title" not a parish but one of the ancient "stations" where the deacons of the ancient Roman church distributed food and clothes to the poor.
His conclave experience:
Someone actually asked him if Cardinal Bergoglio had been the "runner up" in the previous conclave. "I can't tell you that," the Cardinal responded. No details about the votes, not even of eight years ago. But he could tell of his personal experience. When it came time for the voting, the Cardinal said it was very intense, very tiring, and got more so as the conclusion came near. He had to ask himself, as he put pen to paper, "Why am I making this choice?", praying to be delivered from anything that might impede the will of God. There was no talking between ballots, other than perhaps a whispered consultation with one's immediate neighbors. (Seating is assigned by seniority; no musical chairs.) At the last ballot, writing one last time, there was a palpable sense that God is present.
Meanwhile, here is Pope Francis with Pope Emeritus Benedict, and a report about their visit today.