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Expectant Rome remembers, waits

On Monday 115 cardinal-electors, will lock themselves in the Sistine Chapel to begin the process of voting for a new pope

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Vatican City — In the tiny, kitschy trinket shops under the Vatican's walls and along the Via della Conciliazione, visiting nuns crowded three and four deep at the counters yesterday, buying John Paul II posters, calendars, notepads, rosary boxes, votive candle holders and endless postcards.

There were John Paul key chains for the secular tourists, and John Paul spoons and John Paul T-shirts with inscriptions: "Always with You" (in Latin); "I looked for you, now you come for me" (in Italian).

But there are unspoken rules. A John Paul coffee mug or ashtray would not be proper, one shop owner said, although the centrepiece of her window was a garish poster with a badly drawn face of John Paul crumpled in agony and tears.

Today, the word for the Vatican -- the baroque city state of the Roman Catholic Church tucked into the centre of Rome -- is expectant.

On Monday, the princes of the church, its 115 cardinal-electors, will lock themselves in the Sistine Chapel to begin voting for a new pope.

Yesterday, in the warm Roman spring, scores of police and other emergency workers milled at the point where the Via della Conciliazione meets St. Peter's Square, preparing for the tens of thousands who are expected to greet John Paul's successor.

Ambulances were stationed on nearby streets.

A steady stream of motorcycle messengers and official cars sped in and out of the Vatican's main vehicle gate, with the occupants of each car receiving an elegant salute from a young Hollywood-handsome Swiss Guard.

There was a poignant touch. On the third floor of the Apostolic Palace overlooking the square, all the windows were shuttered except one, the window where John Paul used to appear, over more than 26 years, to bless the crowds below.

Soon, someone else will stand there.

There was expectancy in a brief announcement that Canada's three cardinal-electors -- Aloysius Ambrozic of Toronto, Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal and Marc Ouellet of Quebec City -- will move tomorrow from outside the Vatican's walls, where they have been living since the Pope's funeral, into the special residence of St. Martha's House, 350 metres from the Sistine Chapel.

It is in the chapel where the cardinal-electors from 53 countries will elect one of their number as the next bishop of Rome, vicar of Christ, servant of the servants of God and supreme pontiff of the world-wide church.

Expectant was certainly the word to describe the state of the Vatican Curia, the church's governing bureaucracy.

By convention, the cardinals who head the Curia's dicasteries, or departments, resign the moment a pope dies. Church work comes to a halt, meetings are cancelled, initiatives cease.

"In reality," one senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, "it's a chance to catch up on work. I'm four months behind. As we're speaking, I've got 37 e-mails waiting to be answered."

But he acknowledged with a shy smile that the election is dominating all curial conversation. "We're all thinking about it."

Asked if the rumours were true that his own cardinal is a candidate, he replied: "He certainly hasn't stood around talking about it." But then a few moments later, he said suddenly of his boss: "He has such a beautiful mind, such a wonderful intellect."

Workers were seen on the Sistine Chapel roof affixing a small pipe to the chimney, out of which white smoke is to waft skyward when a new pope has been chosen. The Vatican announced that caterers, housekeepers, doctors, nurses and elevator operators who will be in contact with the cardinals during the election took an oath of secrecy not to reveal anything they hear, on penalty of excommunication if they gossip.

At week's end, the cardinals attended the last of a series of meetings that are a formal part of the papal transition, established to give them an overview of the church and to focus their minds on the sort of man the church needs as its next leader.

Thomas Reese, editor of America, the U.S. Jesuit magazine, said one cardinal told him privately that the meetings were "pretty boring."

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