Tales from eight conclaves

The next conclave will be strikingly different from its predecessors: there will be a far larger and much more diverse group of electors; the cardinals will be living comfortably (in a Vatican guest house) rather than miserably (in makeshift cubicles in the Apostolic Palace); the world and the Church now expect things of a pope that were not expected in the past. Still, a look at the conclaves of the 20th century suggests that there are almost always surprises afoot when the doors of the Sistine Chapel close and voting begins.

The 1903 conclave that elected Giuseppe Sarto, patriarch of Venice, as Pius X was the last at which a monarch — in this case, the Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Jozef — vetoed a candidate: Cardinal Mariano Rampolla, Secretary of State of the recently-deceased Leo XIII. One of Pius X’s first acts was to issue a decree forbidding such interventions in the future.

The 1914 conclave, held shortly after World War I broke out, had a dramatic ending. Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa, archbishop of Bologna, seemed to have been elected by one vote. But his bitter enemy, Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val, insisted that the ballots be checked to insure that della Chiesa hadn’t voted for himself. He hadn’t. When the cardinals offered their homage to the newly-elected Benedict XV, the new pope reportedly said to Merry del Val, puckishly or frostily, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” To which the unabashed Merry del Val replied with the next verse of Psalm 118: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”

In 1922, the same ideological forces that had collided in 1914 fought it out again, this time to a deadlock between the more open-minded Cardinal Pietro Gasparri and the “integrist” candidate, Cardinal Pietro La Fontaine. The deadlock was broken on the fourteenth ballot when Cardinal Achille Ratti was elected as Pius XI. Ratti had been archbishop of Milan and a cardinal for less than eight months.

The 1939 conclave was the only 20th century papal election that didn’t produce any surprises. Pius XI had long indicated that he thought his Secretary of State, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, was the best possible successor. Meeting on the brink of World War II, the cardinals evidently agreed, as Pacelli was elected as Pius XII in a one-day conclave.

Nineteen years later, there were no obvious successors to Pius XII, with various candidates being bruited in the press. The French cardinals came to Rome determined to elect a man some had dismissed as over-the-hill: 77-year old Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, patriarch of Venice and former nuncio to France. The Frenchmen held their votes together even when Roncalli’s candidacy seemed to slip, gathered allies, and eventually got their candidate elected as John XXIII. There were only fifty-two electors in 1958 (compared to 117 today); it is reported, perhaps apocryphally, that one elderly and confused cardinal kept voting for “Achille Ratti” throughout the balloting.

John XXIII’s signature accomplishment, the launching of the Second Vatican Council, set the context for the 1963 conclave. Anti-Council cardinals wanted to bring Vatican II to a swift conclusion; others were determined to forge ahead. John XXIII had sent oblique signals indicating that he thought Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, archbishop of Milan, would make a fine pope, but anti-Montini voters blocked his election in the early balloting. Cardinal Gustavo Testa, an old friend of John XXIII, then blew his stack in the Sistine Chapel, demanding that the intransigents stop impeding Montini’s path. Montini was elected the next day, took the name Paul VI, and began a fifteen-year Gethsemane in the office for which many thought him perfectly prepared.

The first conclave of 1978 illustrates the power of one energetic Great Elector to shape a conclave. Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, once Paul VI’s principal aide, had settled on Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice as his candidate; Benelli convinced others; Luciani was elected in a day — only to die thirty-three days later of a thrombosis. The psychological and spiritual earthquake produced by John Paul I’s sudden death created the human conditions for the possibility of doing the unthinkable — electing a non-Italian – in October 1978.


COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.