Waiting on the Bells
Cardinals-designate only receive formal notice of their selection to join the world's most exclusive club 48 to 72 hours before the papal announcement of their impending elevation is made.
Contrary to popular belief, however, the corps of reliable scribes covering the Holy See gets no such preview... thus turning consistory season -- or, rather, the period leading up to its kickoff -- into a frenzy of many good folks (some of whom haven't been heard from or caught up with since the last iteration of this exercise) calling up every credible acquaintance whose number they/we can track down in the hope of securing an advance word on the goods (and, ergo, a somewhat cheaper plane ticket and hotel reservations).
Fret not -- it is enjoyable. And with US Thanksgiving providing the backdrop to the foreseen next Red Hat Giveaway (expected to be held on 24 November, two days following the holiday), it should come as no surprise that the Yanks are outdoing themselves on the sleuthing runs, abuzz over the three "W's" (which, the other three being of a fixed nature, boil down to "When?" "Who?" and "Wuerl?").
Just so some of you can (temporarily) breathe easier: as of the last phone-check, the ground hasn't been felt rumbling toward an announcement during the Pope's Sunday Angelus.
That can easily change, of course -- and if it does, you'll hear.
The ante has, however, already been upped for next Wednesday's General Audience. Due to his trip to Naples the following weekend, B16 will be away from the Vatican at the time of his traditional window catechesis on the 21st. Ergo, barring an announcement in five days' time, the last feasible call-date at the Princemaker's disposal will be a week following, with exactly a month to go until the long-anticipated red-letter event.
Lastly, it should be noted that, in recent go-rounds, some sort of semi-official warning shot has tended to go off in the period immediately prior to a definitive announcement.
In late September 2003, John Paul II's revelation of his last batch of new cardinals at a Sunday Angelus was heralded in advance by the arrival of emergency generators and speakers into St Peter's Square. Provided by the Italian state broadcaster RAI, the reinforcements became necessary after an overnight blackout left much of Rome in the dark well into the morning hours. As the designates and their staffs around the world were prepared to go public immediately following the papal word, not even the power outage could keep the announcement from being made; normally, the Angelus would've been cancelled.
However, the network's generosity didn't extend to the Sala Stampa; for the hours following the announcement, the Vatican website was down and candles kept the Press Office lit, its equipment down alongside most of the various Rome bureaus.
As a result, in a return to prehistoric times, word was principally spread by means of radio and television.
Suffice it to say, that was a memorable morning.
For the following batch of fresh scarlet -- the first of the current pontificate -- hours before B16's announcement in Rome on the feast of the Chair of Peter, 22 February 2006, the starting gun was prematurely fired half a world away. In Seoul -- +7 hours Vatican time -- the newspapers maintained the usual timetable in reporting local jubilation at the elevation of Archbishop Nicky Cheong a quarter-day ahead of schedule.
The traditional all-points is out for the alarms... as always, stay tuned.
PHOTO: Luke Thomas/Fog City Journal