ROME -- The princes of the Roman Catholic Church gathered in the Basilica of St. Peter this morning, opening the elaborate ritual to elect the next pope with a formal Mass in Latin.
The cardinals, clad in red choir robes, sat arrayed around the central altar, Bernini’s 95-foot canopy towering overhead.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, asked in his homily that “the Lord, through the pastoral solicitude of the cardinal fathers, may soon grant another good shepherd to his holy church.”
The cobblestoned streets around the Vatican vibrated with the sound of chanting and organ music from the service, which was broadcast on Jumbotrons on St. Peter’s Square. Under thick rain clouds edged with light, tourists and pilgrims gathered to watch.
Among them was Brother Anthony, a 28-year-old Benedictine monk originally from Texas and now living in an Umbrian monastery, who wore a beard, wire-rimmed glasses, black robes, and black cotton sweater. He had made the 2-1/2 hour journey to Rome to pray for the cardinals as they prepare to choose a pontiff.
“The church needs a man who is rooted in Jesus Christ,” he said. “All that people need to do now is pray. Pray, pray, pray.”
Ruth Davies, 43, who works for a small Catholic website in London, was among those who arrived early enough to get a seat inside the church.
“It was very beautiful,” she said after the service. “All the red looked very smart.”
She saw several papabile, or papal contenders: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, was “pretty smiley” as he processed by, she said, as was Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle from the Philippines, a comparatively young cardinal who is beloved in his home country for his humility and care for the poor. Tagle, she said, was helping an elderly cardinal who was having trouble walking.
She also saw Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston.
“He didn’t do the smiling and waving at everyone,” she said. “He did the looking-quite-seriously.”
Another of those streaming from the doors of St. Peter’s following the Mass was Lundy Ray, a 23-year-old student from Chattanooga, Tenn. The basilica, one of the world’ s largest churches, was “pretty breathtaking,” he said.
“We have a basilica in Chattanooga, but of course it’s not like this,” he said.
A seminarian from Uganda, Remegio Kayiira, 28, who is studying in Rome, said he could feel the intensity with which people were praying for the cardinals as they prepared for their decision.
It was, he said, “a moment I will live to tell for all my life.”
Gansham Gajparia and his wife, Kirti, stood under an umbrella nearby; the 30-something tourists from London said their trip to Rome just happened to coincide with the opening of the conclave.
They are Hindu, they said, but fascinated by the spectacle unfolding before their eyes. They hoped to catch a glimpse of smoke rising from the copper stovepipe atop the Sistine Chapel before they left this evening, they said.
“Any kind of smoke will do,” Gajparia said with a laugh.