Saturday, November 24, 2007

Party in the Palace

It can't be said that the Romans -- for whom this time of year is, traditionally, the calm before the Christmas storm -- are terribly enthused about the disruption of the usual peace by the sudden influx of red-seeking pilgrims.

Then again, the natives do love Consistory Week -- because they get to raid the Pope's House.

(Considering that, not all that long ago, the Eternal Citizens made a centuries-long habit of looting the papal residence whenever its occupant died, keep in mind that "raid" ain't what it used to be.)

In the one element of the celebrations that the city's fulltime residents embrace whole-hog, the only time the pontifical pad ever opens to the public comes on Creation Night as the new cardinals take up spots throughout the building to receive anyone and everyone who wants to express congratulations -- and, of course, get a photo and the traditional prayer cards each has printed up to commemorate the event.

Recent classes of cardinals have been so large that more and more of the palace (and the rest of the city-state) has been used with each ensuing consistory. This time around, seven new red-hats took up places in the Paul VI Audience Hall (on the other side of the Basilica); Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo held court at his office in the Governatorato -- the Vatican's "City Hall" -- and one new cardinal was even cast away at the Vatican Library.

Together with this day's first creation, the veteran curialist Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Cardinal John Foley shared the choice venue of the Sala Regia -- the "kingly hall" that is the palace's central room. Cardinal Dan DiNardo took up a spot alongside six others in the Hall of Blessings, the room for midsize audiences that stretches above the narthex of St Peter's.

Pushing through hundreds of people in the allotted two hours is a team effort, and so each cardinal found at his place a Swiss Guard and plainclothes officer alongside the customary table for his biretta, stocked with bottles of water, a sign with his name nearby, and a chair, which many of the older Porporati find welcome at the end of the long day.

One aide estimated that close to 800 lined up for his cardinal, including the various cardinals, bishops, diplomats and other high-fliers permitted to cut in front of the patient layfolk and rank-and-file clergy and religious who queue up. In another touch, each new cardinal was visited this year by B16's private secretary, Msgr Georg Ganswein.

Following tomorrow's Ring Mass, the Pope will host a lunch for the entire college of cardinals. The shared meal is an innovation on the part of Benedict, himself a former Cardinal-Dean who wants his successor's electors to know each other better.

PHOTO 1: AP/Andrew Medichini
PHOTOS 2, 3: AP/Alessandra Tarantino