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Vatican Adventure Election of Pope John Paul II Remarkable Experiences of an indian Journalist

Vatican Adventure Election of Pope John Paul II Remarkable Experiences of an indian Journalist

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Vatican Adventure Election of Pope John Paul II Remarkable Experiences of an indian Journalist
Vatican Adventure Election of Pope John Paul II Remarkable Experiences of an indian Journalist

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Published by: Thomas Encyclopaedia on Oct 29, 2008
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06/16/2009

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 Vatican AdventureELECTION OF THE NEW POPE JOHN PAUL IIRemarkable Experiences of an Indian Journalist Prof. George Menachery had read and written much about PAPAL ELECTIONS. When hewent to Rome as a free lancer for the October 1978 election where the conclave ofCardinals chose the present Pontiff His Holiness Pope John Paul II, he had merelywanted to experience at first hand the joy and excitement of a papal election asdescribed in classics he had read many times over such as Morris West’s ‘SHOES OFTHE FISHERMAN’, Irving Stone’s ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’, and Henry MortonRobinson’s ‘The Cardinal’. But his Roman holidays turned into a memorableadventure. Read about it here.The Cardinals were arriving one by one for the ‘Mass for the Election of thePope’. They entered the cobbled courtyard behind St.Peter’s Basilica in huge carsand walked towards the special back-door of the Basilica quite close to the mainaltar.After the Mass they would enter the Conclave (‘with key’) and proceed toelect behind locked doors the next spiritual leader of the crores-strong Catholiccommunity of the world and the temporal head of the State of Vatican.I was the only Indian among the 1300 press reporters from all over the world inRome that October accredited by Archbishop Pancharoli’s Vatican Press Office.Ofthese 300 belonged to the English-speaking group. The Italian group was 320-strong, the French were 200 odd, and the Spanish/Portuguese 140. In addition therewere more than 300 TV crewmembers. Apart from two or three selected TV teams onlyfourteen of the 1300 reporters who had arrived to report the papal elections werepermitted to enter the Basilica for the function to report and to take exclusivephotographs.Vatican accreditation given to George Menachery by the Vatican Press OfficeThese were selected by lot during the briefing sessions and I was extremely luckyto get one of those fourteen coveted cards. Some well-known magazines and papersfrom the United States and France were willing to pay huge amounts for this card.In fact some of the fourteen photographers present now at the Basilica doorrepresented the most famous magazines and newspapers of the world, having procuredthe cards from the original lucky winners paying quite hefty sums.
 
One of the very first to arrive to attend that crucial function before the all-important Conclave locked its doors against the outside world was LawrenceCardinal Picachy of Calcutta. As he got down from the huge car on to the vastbrick-paved yard and proceeded towards the Basilica my Minolta flashed twice orthrice. One or two other pressmen also photographed the Cardinal from India, Inoticed with pleasure.It was with a huge coterie of admirers and followers that Cardinal Siri arrived.So also Cardinal Benelli. Both were front-runners in the first ballots in theprevious election and one of these two was expected to come out of the Conclave asthe new Pope. Hence the photographers vied with each other in taking theirpictures. I also took one each. But I was now mainly waiting for the arrival ofCardinal Parecattil of Ernakulam, ‘my Cardinal’. Then came Cardinal Rossi ofPropaganda in the company of Archbishop Lourdusamy (now a Cardinal). They talkedserious business for a while before the Cardinal entered the Basilica andLourdusamy went back. I didn’t forget to snap the duo.But now the sound of music from inside the Basilica was growing louder and louder.Like the Wedding-guest in Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner’ I had to still reluctantlytarry waiting for my Cardinal to arrive. There was still no sign of his car. Mostof my fellow photographers were preparing to enter the church to cover the Massand the decisive guide-line speech to the Cardinals. It was then that I noticed asolitary figure in red approaching from the huge gateway. This Cardinal lookedlonely, tired, and crestfallen, yet somehow upholding the dignity of a prince ofthe Church. He alone among all the Cardinals arrived on foot, walking hurriedlytowards the Basilica. No camera aimed to take his picture coming as he was withoutbenefit of admirers and supporters. One or two of the big-time photgraphers fromthe US were looking at this pitiable figure almost it seemed contemptously. “Thereare lots of unused frames in my Minolta. I need only a few more to cover CardinalParecattil. So why not snap him, whom nobody appears to care for?”, I thought. Andso I took a photo of this lonely man. He raised his head in some surprise, andwent in silently. Soon afterwards Cardinal Parecattil came from the gianicolohospital where he was staying, smiled at me, and went in, the very last Cardinalto enter the Basilica.With thousands I stood in the Piazza San Petro between the colossal columns ofBernini near his fountain and the huge obelisk in the Vatican looking at the thinpipe raising its head to the left of Michaelangelo’s mammoth dome from the famousfresco-adorned Sistine Chapel to see whether it would spit white smoke this time,fifty-six long hours and seven ballots after the Cardinals had been locked upinside to elect one, most probably from among themselves, as the new successor ofSt. Peter. Two days back I had the rarest of privileges to study the arrangementsin the conclave area as the goddess of fortune had given me one of the sixty cardsdistributed by lot among the 1300 journalists to inspect the secrets of theConclave . I was especially attracted to the pepper containers on the table ofeach cardinal who will be attending the Conclave. I told fellow journalists howtwo millennia back 100s of 1000s of gold coins minted by Caesar Augustus whoforced pregnant Mary to travel all the way to Bethlehem, Tiberius Caesar themaster of Pontius Pilate, and the ‘fiddling’ Nero had found their way into distantKerala in exchange for Kerala’s pepper and pearls and how Alaric the Goth hadasked for 3000 pounds of Indian pepper. as ransom to free the Senate Fathers ofRome. From the stoves arranged to burn straw and chemicals to produce the whiteand black smoke I put some coal pieces into my coat pocket as mementos of thishistoric visit to the Conclave area.
 
Now, standing in the St. Peter’s square or piazza I looked at the balcony of theBasilica to test my newly bought binoculars. Some days back I had gone up to theroof of the basilica to examine the marvels of its architecture. As a student andteacher of art and architecture this exercise has always given me immensepleasure. On this occasion however I had another motive also. I had always wantedto touch the thin white pipe that would inform the world the election or non-election of a Pope. So with the intention of touching the pipe I approached it.But many wooden barricades had been erected to prevent just such an attempt. WhileI proceeded towards the pipe disregarding the barricades I could see from thecorner of my eye a policeman coming towards me to prevent my proceeding further.Pretending not to see the arm of the law coming nearer and nearer and now shoutingsomething very loud, I walked quickly to the pipe and touched it. Turning around Isaw the furious policeman who immediately caught hold of my arms. I innocentlyasked him in Malayalam what the matter was. He shouted again. I repeated myquestion in Malayalam again. Then in broken - very broken - English I told him Icould not understand what he was saying. In despair he brought me out beyond themobile barricades and pushed me in the direction of the staircase and shoutedsomething like GOOOO! That was a week agoNow I was standing in the square or piazza looking at the balcony of the Basilicaand the Sistine roof. Suddenly the tip of the pipe began to spit white smoke. Thecrowd began a deafening non-stop shout “Bianca! Bianca!” It’s white, it’s white.“We Have a New Pope! We Have a New Pope!” Tens of thousands were soonconcentrating their attention on the balcony where the new Pope’s name would beannounced and where the Pope himself would eventually appear. But within twenty-four minutes of the election of the Pope Osservatore Romano the official organ ofthe Vatican came out at 6.43 p.m. carrying a half-page picture of the new Pope. Ibought a copy from the boy selling the paper like hot cakes among the crowd to seewho had been finally elected. To my surprise I saw the lonely hero of myphotograph keenly looking at me from the front page. He was the new Pope. But Ididn’t know until then the name or country of Karol Joseph Woyitila. Even whenCardinal Felici announced the name in sonorous Latin very few in the crowd couldrecognize it. Once again the Italian adage was proved true: “He who goes into theConclave Pope comes out Cardinal” - and the last and very least became the first,a Polaco, a non-Italian in 400 years, that too from the underground of a communistcountry - from the fourth world, so to say - as had happened to Anthony Quinn asKiril Cardinal Lakota in the Holywood version of The Shoes of the Fisherman.The huge lamps of the Vatican Palace and the Propaganda College started to floodthe St. Peter’s Square, together with the huge Roman moon lighting up the wholearea and converting night into day. By this time the crowd had swelled to some twohundred thousand souls filling the whole square and the Via De La Conciliazione upto river Tiber. It was another half an hour before the Pope appeared on thebalcony to give his blessing Urbi et Orbi - to the City and to the World. Beforegiving that Latin blessing he talked to the people in simple Italian - to theirgreat delight and to the displeasure of the Curia officials. ‘Viva il Papa’ LongLive the Pope, the crowd shouted again and again. ‘ Polonnia! Polonnia!’ Poland,Poland. Bearing witness to the birth of a new era the bells in the four hundredchurches of Rome began to ring, led by the eleven ton Kanchenone of the St.Peter’s Basilica.Morning. When I came to see Cardinal Parecattil once again at the hospitalGianicolo where he used to stay when in Rome I showed him the pictures I hadtaken. Of himself, Lourdsamy, Picachy and the new Pope as they were arriving atthe courtyard entrance of the basilica. He couldn’t believe that I had taken apicture of the Pope before the election, because nobody thought he would be

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