L’AQUILA, Italy – The three bottles of red wine sit corked on the table, exactly where they were that night almost four years ago when a deadly earthquake hit this mountainside town in central Italy. Circling his gaze around to the cracks in the white plaster walls of his house, which he’d moved into just 10 months before the disaster and is still paying for, Lucio Paolucci says that he has no idea when – or even if – he can move back in. “I hope so, I hope, but by now it is four years, and nothing much has changed,” he says. Mr Paolucci’s house, like many other buildings in the hilltop old town of L’Aquila, has a long history, dating back to the 1300’s. The earthquake, which struck around 3.30 am on April 6, 2009, killed 309 people and left 65,000 more homeless. Pointing to the bottles, Mr Paolucci says they are a relic of the days before the disaster. “I keep them there like that as a reminder, a keepsake,” he says.
ROME – On a misty Sunday evening in Rome, Sister Gloria Bongkonoy scuttled back and forth from the Santa Pudenziana church to the small parish office next door. “As you can see, we are busy this weekend,” she grinned, as worshippers filed down the narrow steps from the sloping Via Urbana 20 feet above. The Mass they were gathering for was celebrated not in Italian or Latin or even English, but in Tagalog, the national language of Sister Gloria’s homeland, the Philippines. When asked about hopes that Manila’s Cardinal Luis Tagle – “pronounced Tag-lay,” as she corrected me – would be elected Pope, Sister Gloria merely smiled and said “we are hoping that the will of God will be done in the conclave.”
ROME — Joshua Cambria, a convert to Catholicism who hails from Providence, R.I., and a student-services officer at John Cabot University in Rome, said he ran to St. Peter’s upon seeing the white smoke while watching the conclave proceedings on TV. “I was personally hoping for [Italian Cardinal Angelo] Scola, a grand Ambrosian theologian with an appetite for reform. But, again, I am both surprised and pleased with the outcome of the holy conclave,” said Cambria, who describes himself as being as much of an Italian as an American. Like Cambria, other American students in Rome had their particular thoughts and hopes about who would succeed Benedict XVI. Tatum McWhirter, a philosophy and theology student at Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University, said she was rooting for Canada’s Marc Ouellet, who, like U.S. cardinals Sean O’Malley and Timothy Dolan, was touted by many analysts as a contender prior to the conclave.
VATICAN CITY — With a Colombian flag tied around her shoulders, Sister Laura Teresa took a last look back at the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, where, moments before, Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio emerged to greet the world as Pope Francis. He is the 266th pope, but the first Latin American, the first Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope and the first non-European since 741. “Yes, there is history here tonight,” said the religious sister from Bogota. Speaking amid a din from the estimated 200,000 umbrella-wielding onlookers making their way out of the vast horseshoe-shaped piazza after the end of the conclave, Sister Laura said that “I am surprised and happy that there is a Holy Father from South America.”
ROME – If you’re on Twitter, #conclave has been one of the best places to follow news about the next leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. On Tuesday evening Rome time, between start of the vote, and the inconclusive end to the first ballot, tweets were coming in at around 40 per minute by my count, a mix of news updates from Rome, smartphone pics from around the Vatican, lewd comments from unknown locations on some of the recent scandals, and some light-hearted gags. But most are just tuning in to hear the results, which should come within three days, according to Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi. The Vatican’s system for spreading news is sending black smoke up through temporary chimneys to announce that a round of voting failed to produce a winner. Everyone’s waiting for the white smoke, followed by the ringing of the St. Peter’s church bells, when there’s a result.
ROME — “We are praying for it,” says Ferdinand de Guzman, standing in the doorway of the Santa Pudenziana church, about a mile from the Colosseum and the Lateran Basilica, two famous Roman landmarks. The Filipino Catholic was speaking about the possibility that his compatriot, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, could emerge as Pope after the conclave, which starts Tuesday. “If God wills it, he will be Pope, but if not, we will surely support our new Holy Father whoever that may be,” said de Guzman, from Tarlac in the Philippines but now in his 20th year living in Rome.