Monday, February 11, 2013

Habemus Papam! Er ... Duo Papum?

Whacking the old one on the noggin to prove he's dead before getting a new one

Sealing the dead one's bedroom

"Take this job and ..."

Dang, I wish now that I'd paid attention in Latin class. They told me I'd be glad to have it some day, and it turns out they were right.

[My wife, who grew up Episcopalian and is a lot smarter than I, informs me that the correct Latin to say that we have more than one pope is "Habemus Papas!" that being the accusative plural of the familiarly sounded cry, the accusative singular "Habemus Papam!" Heck, the only accusative I knew from high school Latin was the one in which the Latin teacher priest accused me of not studying and then punched me in the face. Oh well, at least he didn't invite me on camping trip.]

But I digress. The point is, dang, I am sorry to see the gnarly old German Pope retiring. As a long-ago Catholic, I always liked the rituals, and none were grander than getting a new pope when the old one died and joined the Choir Invisible.

In 1978, as a reporter for the old Philadelphia Bulletin, I once even went to Rome to cover the death of a pope (the sour old Paul VI) and the election of a new one, the smiley-faced one who everybody forgets about that lasted about a month till he suddenly died and was succeeded by that jovial Polish fellow. I still dine out on stories from that ancient adventure, including the way the cranky old cardinals beefed about not being able to find all the parts to the creaky Sistine Chapel stove that was supposed to send up the black or white smoke signals. (It kept puffing out gray). Not to mention the way the cardinals, men who are accustomed to living in princely splendor, griped about the dormitory-like accommodations that then prevailed in the Sistine Chapel during the secret conclave (where one cardinal, the guy from Washington D.C., annoyed the others by always playing his harmonica, on which he only knew one song, "Do Not Forsake Me O My Darling," from High Noon).

But mostly I miss it when the Vatican carmerlengo cardinal has to use a silver hammer to whack the old pope on the noggin to prove that he is really dead before they can get a new one.

Tradition! Ritual! Sic transit gloria mundi!


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