Today, 115 cardinals will begin the process of electing the next leader of Catholicism’s 1.2 billion members. Let’s consider some of the most common questions people ask about this historic process.
Who are “cardinals”? They are senior officials of the Roman Catholic Church; according to canon law, a maximum of 120 are eligible to vote. Cardinals wear red as a sign of their willingness to shed their blood for their church. They have come from all over the world to elect the next leader of their global movement.
Who is the “pope”? This individual is considered by Catholics to be “Supreme Pontiff, servant of the servants of God, vicar of Christ, successor of Peter, bishop of Rome, patriarch of the West.” “Pope” is a version of “papa,” the “father” of the church. Catholics believe that this office was begun when Jesus gave Peter the “keys to the kingdom” (Matthew 16:19), and view popes as his successors.
Why is the event called “conclave”? The term comes from the Latin cum clavi, “with a key,” referring to the “locking away” of the cardinals during the process. Only cooks, healthcare professionals and wait staff are allowed in their presence during this time. No cell phones, emails, or visitors are allowed. In recent years, the floor of the Sistine Chapel was raised to install jamming instruments that hinder such technology.
How is the pope elected? The cardinals will vote once today, then four times for each of the next 11 days (twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon) until someone receives a two-thirds majority plus one. If no pope is elected in this time, the cardinals may change the rules and elect by a simple majority plus one.
Why is this event important to non-Catholics? Last week, James Peel, research coordinator for our ministry, asked that question of Monsignor Don Zimmerman at Christ the King Catholic Church in Dallas, Texas. Msgr. Zimmerman has been a dear friend of mine for 15 years, and is a Godly man and very wise follower of Jesus. During his 15-minute video interview, he made a profound observation. After describing “hot spots” around the world, in the Middle East and elsewhere, he noted that religion is a significant factor in each conflict. Then he stated: “If religion is a component in these problems, religion must be a component in their resolution.”
What do you believe the next pope’s priorities should be? Please share your answers on our website. And consider Msgr. Zimmerman’s insight: The pope is the one figure who can best call together leaders from the world and its various religions to find pathways to peace. For that reason among others, I will begin praying today for God’s Spirit to lead the cardinals to the best person for this critical role. Will you join me?