It has been a heady couple of days for Catholics. The media buzz over the papal resignation has spread far beyond the walls of the Vatican. It is reminiscent of the death watch in 2005, when the world held its breath for the bells to toll the passing of Pope John Paul II. Then, news teams from around the globe descended on St. Peter’s. His death was followed by intense coverage of the papal funeral and subsequent conclave. I was hooked then. And, I’m hooked now.
Except this time, there has been no death.
I have often wondered what it would be like to be the Queen of England or the Pope. You know that your funeral will be a world-stopping affair, but you wouldn’t be around to hear the tributes and memorials. And, you wouldn’t be around to see the coronation of your successor. With his surprise abdication, Pope Benedict is living through an experience that no other Pope has. He may not be the first to resign, but he is the first to do it in the age of modern communications.
I wonder. Is he following the news coverage? Is he curious to know the world’s reaction to his decision? Is he really going to be able to just close the doors on the papal apartments and walk away on February 28th? Will he be following the news of the conclave on T.V. with the rest of the world?
The news trickling from the Vatican press office tells us that plans are already under way for the retired Pope to go to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo before he moves into a newly refurbished monastery in the middle of the Vatican gardens. And, no, he will have no role in the conclave (other than hand-picking many of the electors).
There is a surreal effect to this story. It sounds more like the opening chapter of a suspense plot in a Vatican-based novel. One wonders if there is a tale below the surface. Will there be other surprises in the coming days?