It is understandable that all Catholics will be interested at least in the choice of their next leader, and that other Christians too will be watching what is happening in Rome; the extent of the absorption of the media in this latest arcane conclave of the Cardinals, however, has surprised me, and I have been pondering why sceptical journalists and a materialistic society are riveted by the pageant of an ancient ritual, particularly since the popularity of Catholicism in the western world is in decline.
I watched the arrival of the Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, the oath-taking and the Extra Omnes dismissal of the supernumeraries. I heard the choir singing medieval religious music, saw rich vestments and great ceremony accompanied by Latin verse against a backdrop of magnificent Renaissance art by Michelangelo, and felt the hand of history as a many-centuries old religious rite got under way. Even unaccompanied by the customary grief for the death of the previous pontiff as a result of the papal resignation, it was impressive, and also moving.
One reason for the interest is the spectacle of something quite extraordinary in our practical often unromantic world - timeless religious ritual. It occurs to a certain degree in Catholic Churches all over the world every day, but it is not often that it is brought so vividly to the attention of non-Catholics. Other religious churches can rarely achieve the level of ceremony and sensory stimulation that Catholics can, and few can fail to be stirred by it, however much the secrecy and scandal, dogma and outdated traditions may be criticised.
It is more than richness and opulence, though that we have seen in abundance today.
Many in the world, secretly or openly, are looking for a spiritual leader to inspire them and lead them into this new age of Light, to help them through a tangible cycle of uncertainty. Some people know that the ultimate spiritual leader lies within and not without, but others look still for a figurehead or teacher to guide them forward and help them with comfort and wise counsel. So long as it does not become dependency, there is nothing wrong with that - though whether this will come from the next Pope or a very different place is debatable.
Claire Montanaro is a spiritual teacher, channel and blogger with special interest in esoteric philosophy and the world in transition. Loves nature and wildlife. Author of “Spiritual Wisdom”.