03/13/2013, 00.00
VATICAN
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Black smoke is normal, Fr Lombardi says

The conclave is taking place in a very spiritual atmosphere "in an ambiance that effectively inspires, in its own way, great attention and responsibility because there is the overriding judgement, that of Michelangelo's Final Judgement". Benedict XVI "has been closely following everything, especially the morning Mass and the entrance in the conclave via TV." We might expect the first Mass of the pontificate to be celebrated on 19 March and that the election would be over before Saturday. Sunday will see the first Angelus. How the "fumate" are made.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The fact that the first two votes yielded black smoke was expected, Vatican Press Office director Fr Federico Lombardi said. "Yesterday nobody was expecting a white 'fumata'. People in the square filled away calmly afterwards. No one was disappointed because everyone who came for the event knew that white smoke was not expected, nor is today. This is quite normal. Looking back over the Conclaves held in the last century, only Pius XII, just before the Second World War, was elected after three ballots. All the others required more. This is very normal. It is not a sign of division among cardinals but a normal part of the process of discernment among cardinals."

In response to some questions, Fr Lombardi said that talk about divisions among cardinals was mere conjecture. Instead, he stressed the highly spiritual moment.

"We are living a particularly beautiful and intense moment," he said. "We have reached the final stage of the period that began last month with Benedict XVI's renunciation and that will conclude with the election of his successor. We can feel the excitement growing: we can see it and feel it in Saint Peter's," he explained.

"Yesterday evening, a large number of people were already waiting for the 'fumata', even more than I expected. This is already an indication of the serene and joyful climate that characterises these days, which will be a beautiful experience once the pope is elected."

To give an impression of the atmosphere in the conclave, Fr Lombardi cited German Cardinal Karl Lehman, a participant in a previous conclave, who spoke to Vatican Radio's German service.

"There is nothing hurried," he noted. "The atmosphere is one of intense spirituality and sense of responsibility. Cardinals slowly approach the altar with their vote, holding it in clear view," as the Apostolic Constitution requires, "saying aloud the following oath: 'I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected.'

"After placing the ballot in the receptacle, each slowly returns to his place in an ambiance that effectively inspires, by its very nature, great attentiveness and sense of responsibility because over all of them there is a dominant judgement, that of Michelangelo's Final Judgement."

Similarly, "This is also a hint for you, should you meet some old cardinal not in the Sistine Chapel at present, who might describe the spirituality and sense of responsibility that pervade conclaves" with many nuns spending the best part of their time in worship, praying for the conclave.

Benedict XVI is also doing his part. Fr. Lombardi said. Yesterday afternoon in the Sistine Chapel he met, "among other people, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Prefect of the Papal Household, and asked him about the well-being of Benedict XVI. He told us that he has been closely following events in the past few days and participating in it spiritually with his prayers, especially the morning Mass and the entrance of the cardinal electors in the conclave via TV."

Asked about the possibility that the pontificate's inaugural Mass might be celebrated on 19 March, the feast day of the patron saint of the Church, he said that it was a good possibility and that the election would probably be over by Saturday so that the new pope could preside over his first Angelus the next day, Sunday.

During the first briefing of the conclave, Fr Lombardi also explained how the 'fumate' are made. "They are made by an electronic device in the more modern stove." In fact, there are two stoves in the Sistine Chapel, "a rounder, older one that burns the ballots, and a more geometric, modern one used to make the 'fumate'."

In the more modern stove, the electronic device releases a cartridge holding five charges, each of which is about 25 centimetres by 15 centimetres by 7 centimetres (roughly 10 inches by 5 inches by 3 inches) to last about one minute each to produce enough black or white smoke to remain visible for about seven minutes.

The black smoke is made with potassium perchlorate, anthracene and sulphur. Whites smoke, which has not yet appeared, is a mixture of potassium chlorate, lactose and a pine resin, also known as Greek pitch.

In response to a question about charges made recently by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Fr Lombardi said, "We know that SNAP has been active for years, how it makes its accusations and how it tries to give them visibility. In this sense, no one is surprised that it tried to use this occasion to repeat the charges to increase their impact. All these issues have been well known, thought through at length, in particular in Card Mahony's case. The other cardinals singled out by SNAP have given their answers and explanations. We believe they are worthy of our esteem and earned their place, and that they have a right to be present in the conclave. Therefore, we do not feel uneasy or under pressure from SNAP's statements, which stem, in my opinion, from negative prejudices."

Among some of the more unusual questions, one was about a demonstration by 'Femen'. "People in Saint Peter's Square paid closer attention to the smoke than to them," Fr Lombardi said. "If they felt they had to come here for this kind of demonstration, I hope at least they did not catch a cold because it is cold out there this time of the year." (FP)

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