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Smoke Signals: Secret Notes From Inside Conclave

04/10/2013 06:21 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2013

According to Italian media reports, a diary has surfaced written by an anonymous cardinal who participated in the recent Vatican conclave. Here are some excerpts from this remarkable account, which offers unprecedented insight into this secret ancient ritual.

How strange to be tasked with electing a new Pope while the old Pope still lives! This thought struck me as I passed near the pontiff's private apartments on my way to conclave--I could clearly hear Benedict singing The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes in the papal shower.

My brother cardinals and I gathered in the Sistine Chapel, where we would fulfill our sacred duty to elect the new pope. There were many warm greetings and happy reunions, though a certain cardinal from America received a distinctly chilly reception. Many of us were shocked that he was allowed to participate in conclave after he confessed to having a profile on ChristianMingle.com.

As our first order of business, we engaged in a lively discussion of the many pressing issues the new pope would face. High on the list of priorities were increasing the number of cup holders in the Popemobile, and finding a more delicate term to replace "bishopric." The cardinal from Brazil argued that it was time to drop the Lambada from the Church's list of forbidden dances. There was also consensus that we should solve the enduring mystery of why the Swiss Guard is stationed at the Vatican.

We then turned to the first round of voting. Not surprisingly, this produced no decisive result, and the ballots were burned in the little stove that has been temporarily installed in the chapel for this purpose. Great attention must be given to the color of the smoke produced in this process: White smoke signals that a new pope has been elected, while black smoke indicates that the vote was inconclusive.

In this case chemicals were added to turn the smoke black, but apparently the wrong chemical compound was introduced to the fire, for it produced neither black smoke nor white smoke but purple haze. Soon the conversation turned to whether the Pink Floyd laser show was still playing at the Vatican planetarium. Some of the cardinals organized an air guitar competition, and one kept repeating the phrase "Oh wow" in tongues. Another scaled the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and positioned himself directly beneath Michelangelo's depiction of the hand of God reaching out to Adam, which he attempted to high-five.

Voting was suspended for the rest of the morning.

* * *

Our next round of voting this afternoon was also inconclusive. This time we tried making black smoke by burning Dan Brown novels with the ballots, which worked admirably.

* * *

During a break in our deliberations we noticed one of the American cardinals busy near the little stove, giggling uncontrollably. It turned out he was sending smoke signals up the chimney, which conveyed the message: Many blue coats... two days' ride... lure them into box canyon.... This prank caused confusion among the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square, with the result that the gelato wagons were temporarily formed into a circle.

The abashed cardinal attributed his mischievous deed to "too many spaghetti Westerns." As penance, he is required to give up both spaghetti and Westerns.

* * *


A report of smoke sighted right after breakfast sent more rumors racing through the crowd today. This turned out to be a false alarm caused by several of the cardinals milling on the sidewalk in front of the Vatican, taking a butt break.

* * *

Habemus Papam -- we have a pope!

With joyous hearts we gathered around the stove and ignited the ballots from our final round of voting. To produce the desired white smoke, we leavened the flames with angel feathers and straw from the Christ Child's manger, along with a healthy dollop of potassium chlorate.

The new pope announced that he would take the name Francis, an unprecedented choice that caught us quite by surprise. It was not immediately clear which saintly figure had inspired this name, but after conferring briefly we arrived at three likely candidates:
     1. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals.
     2. Francis Xavier, a founder of the Jesuit order.
     3. Frances Bavier, who played Aunt Bea on The Andy Griffith Show.

The truth of the matter will be revealed in God's good time!

* * *

Vatican workmen made a disturbing discovery at the conclusion of conclave. As they were removing the little stove from the Sistine Chapel, they found the remains of St. Nicholas in the chimney. The new pontiff has already begun drafting what is sure to be a tricky Christmas Eve sermon.