The day had reached one hour past the halfway point as the sun stretched its rays around dissipating clouds. Stone walls and iron gates were the only thing that would keep the light out; that, and cold, stubborn hearts.
Most hearts were brimming over with sorrow this November afternoon as mourners stood in St. Peter's Square. They were either waiting in line for one last trip into St. Peter's to view the Papal bier or just lingering, praying and being in close proximity to other mourners. A little more than three hours of viewing remained before the doors of the great Basilica would be closed to the public.
Workers and members of the Vatican protocol, including surviving diplomats and all Bishops, save for the Cardinals, would view and pray the full Rosary after Vespers at six p.m. The Basilica would again be cleared and at eleven p.m. the Cardinals would convene exclusively for Matins and a full Rosary, making their last respects before the funeral the following morning at ten a.m.
The Archpriest of St. Peter's and Vicar General of Rome, Cardinal Josef Vendhem - the coldest of hearts - saw to everything. Despite his demonic mission, he had a talent for organization. What had caught and then swayed him to the Devil's side? Power and Pride. He could have been a great credit to the Church. Because of his and Macelli's black hearts the Church stood on the brink of all-out annihilation.
As Camerlengo, Cardinal Antonio Macelli called the shots. He had used the final disaster in Iraq as a loophole to circumvent long and hallowed traditions. Through forgery, Macelli had changed not only the rules of the Conclave, but the time frame and procedure for the preceding funeral. Because of the circumstances globally - the fear following the terrible tragedy on the Field of Abraham - few objected to the stark changes made. Few realized the significance of altering the time-honored rituals during this time considered by the Church as interregnum when the Chair of Peter was empty - sede vacante.
The Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis proclaimed by Pope John Paul II in 1996 had signaled some drastic changes. One of them was the issue of a majority vote plus one after the thirtieth vote, outlawing voting by delegation - compromissum and by acclamation or quasi inspiratio . It was a departure from over 800 years of protocol within the Sacred Conclave. Clement XV's decree Quodcumque Solveris superceded that, returning to the mandatory two-thirds plus one vote for election of the Roman Pontiff whether it was the 30th time to vote or 300th. In addition to emphasizing the importance of per scrutinium - by secret ballot - he reinstituted the possibility of a vote by inspiration, concluding that man could not stand in the way of the Spiritus Sancti.
Yet in Clement's Apostolic Constitution he had worded paragraph 39 in such a way that Macelli was able to interpret it to serve the Legion's purposes. The sentence in particular, which provided the way to circumvent the rules was the following. "In the case of dire necessity such as acts of God, or widespread plague, the time between death, the funeral and the Sacred Conclave of the College of Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church may, and only under the severest circumstances, be expedited if there exists a sufficient danger to the health and welfare of the faithful."
His Holiness - who at this very moment, unbeknownst to all living beings, lay rasping for breath in an isolated, dank room facing southwest in Castel Sant'Angelo - had intended that only for rare exceptions. He had made provisions in the happenstance of widespread contagious diseases; whether it be of the medieval variety bubonic plague or smallpox or of modern means such as chemical warfare or nuclear fallout.
Macelli pounced, claiming that, during the time termed interregnum, the viewing time of the nine days of mourning - referred to as novemdieles before the funeral and Sacred Conclave - must all be moved up. His reasoning, which was not questioned by most, was because of the danger of more terrorist threats universally. Little did anyone realize he was one of those orchestrating these "threats." Everything had been "planned" ahead of time. Had only Clement XV been more precise, had only he been even more meticulous in eliminating all the ambiguities that were so prevalent during the times of the Vatican II Popes, Macelli's loophole might have become the Camerlengo's noose.
Though others within the College of Cardinals - including Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn - had vociferously registered their opposition, they had no recourse to offset that loophole. As the acting Camerlengo, Macelli had pulled off the stratagem. Working in unison with Josef Vendhem, these two black-hearted Prelates were in the process of pulling off a coup d'état - the likes of which had never been seen in the long and storied history of the Church. Clement had unfortunately inherited the questionable cleric Vicar General and Archpriest of the Basilica. Tragically in hindsight, the new Pope had not replaced the Deutschland Prelate.
Yet this infernal revolution had been foreseen by prophets and saints, alerted by Heaven at La Salette and elsewhere. When this rebellion from hell arrived, few there were who recognized it, so hardened their hearts, and so soft their defenses, so apathetic their concerns.
Dateline: Vatican City - Office of the Head of Universal Communications, November 5, 1:05 p.m.
He was no prophet and hardly, to his thinking, a saint, yet the Oblate priest Monsignor Stephen Navarro knew danger lurked very near. He had circled back to his office on the second floor. This office had formerly been in the Sala Stampa della Santa Sede behind St. Peter's and southwest of the Basilica, due west of Domus Sanctae Marthae when it was the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
A few months after Clement XV had been elected, he gave notice he would be a hands-on Pontiff in the mold of Pope Pius XII, curtailing travels to stay at home and clean up the curia. He had consolidated and reorganized several curial offices. He change the name from Social Communications to Universal Communications. He also felt it was important that the head of Universal Communications be closer to the heartbeat of the decision-makers and the Pope's press secretary. The pressroom was retained in the Sala Stampa dela Santa Sede, but the official office was now in the Apostolic Palace where security was better able to keep prying reporters at bay.
Stephen was thankful security was not this tight today. Thank God no guards were posted at his door as he had feared. He quickly slipped inside. Time for a little sprucing up. He ran his Norelco over a heavy stubble, then selected a new change of clothes which he kept in his office closet for emergencies such as this, though no one could have planned for the events Stephen was encountering.
Discarding his tattered, blood stained and muddy cassock for a finely pressed traditional black cassock with magenta trim and cincture, he buttoned it on the go as he grabbed his biretta, breviary and cell phone. In a matter of minutes he had slipped out the side door before anyone saw him and down an archway to the Scala Pia, then through the Portone di Bronzo to the outside.
He silently nodded to both Swiss Guards standing sentinel at the great Bronze Doors, the main entrance into the Vatican Palaces. Were these two Swiss-born sentinels still loyal to their oath? Had they been approached with promises and resisted, or had they succumbed to temptation? Their expressions would not give Stephen a clue as he quickly proceeded down the steps and to the right beneath the columns, staying close to the wall to avoid the throngs that still packed St. Peter's Square.
Yet, one of those among the crowd recognized Stephen, as if he had been waiting for him. He called out, "Ah, Monsignor Navarro? Head of Communications?"
"Yes, and you are?" Stephen tried not to sound impatient, though he was.
"Colin Rembert, with Global NetSat International out of Sydney, mate."
"What can I do for you Mr. Rembert?" Navarro kept walking towards his destination.
The Australian continued after him. "I will be overseeing operations for Global NetSat and would dearly love to see how the Sistine Chapel is set up and where the Cardinals will be so I can describe it to our viewers. I'd be most grateful since I am aware of the time-honored traditions of any outside interference or transmission."
"Well, Mr. Rembert," Stephen smiled, immediately feeling an affinity for this Australian. "Why not? I believe you're in luck. I was just heading that way. Why don't you follow me. I need to follow up on the second wave that should be in progress right now for electronically sweeping the chapel of any bugs or electronic equipment."
"You got a deal, mate -- I mean Monsignor."
They passed two more guards and Stephen cleared Colin through. They then climbed a flight of stairs, traveled through two corridors to the Loggie di Giovanni da Udine and through the Cortile di San Damaso and past the Pauline Chapel. Workers were finishing up here which caused Stephen and his guest to detour outside again into a courtyard and up a short flight of stairs to another corridor by the Sala Regia that led to the Sistine Chapel.
At the entrance to the Sistine Chapel security was even tighter. Stephen surrendered his cell phone with the assurance he could retrieve it upon leaving. Then he and Rembert were thoroughly scanned. Within minutes they were inside the famed old chapel built in the fifteenth century, the one where the Master Michelangelo Buonarroti had basically made his home for nearly five years. Laboriously this greatest of artists had created, on his back, the magnificent opus on the ceiling. It was a work of love carried out in great agony. He had done so under the constant vigil of Pope Julius II, the warrior Pope, and Pope Leo X. Because of the laxity of prior Popes to reinforce the foundations, the beleaguered Leo X had not been able to hold back the dam of reformation flowing over Europe and beyond.
For Monsignor Navarro the activity within the Sistine Chapel was a welcome relief after the unusual stillness that had pervaded the Vatican in recent days. The pounding, hammering, sawing and general hustle going on around and over him was a welcome respite. Most of the workers never looked up. They were in a zone for they had to finish by noon tomorrow. Less than 24 hours and much work yet to do.
Workers were everywhere, readying the chairs or sedentias against the walls where the frame of a baldacchino had been built above each, with a desk in front, and over each chair individual baldacchinums to be hung at the proper time. The Papal Throne had been removed, making each sedentia the same to signify no one was greater than the other.
With 21 Cardinals scheduled to vote, the workers had a conundrum on their hands. Hopefully it would all be worked out before the start of the Conclave at the General Congregation tonight. Macelli had circulated a decree of forty Bishops who had been selected for the next consistory as preconized Cardinals. The problem was there was no seal by the Holy Father. They could forge his signature, but not his seal. Without the waxed seal, the body of Cardinals could not in all conscience allow a suspect preconized consistorial document to be introduced as official.
That was another reason Macelli was so furious that they had failed to find the body of the Pope. Vendhem was to have had the ring removed the night the intruders had infiltrated the Papal Quarters. They had rushed it, opting to toss the unconscious bodies of Major Riage Benziger and Pope Clement XV into burlap body bags so they could return after the catastrophe. Though the devil may be stronger, an inhuman spirit, like man he made and continues to mistakes. Those resisting the Legion would give thanks for that if they only knew.
Without Clement XV's signet Fisherman's Ring, Macelli could not make the decree official. That was another reason why his forgery on the Jews would never pass muster before the General Congregation; thus he had taken the media route to disseminate it. Yet, that too, as Vendhem had so insipidly notified him, had failed.
Nevertheless, workers had been instructed to have ready 40 more baldacchino sedentias in the event the 40 possible future Cardinals were approved. If so the workers would line up 32 on one side, 31 on the other. For now there were ten spaced evenly on one wall beneath the six stained glass windows and various cycles of the Old Testament and the life of Moses. On the opposite wall beneath an identical set of six stained glass windows were eleven baldacchino sedentias spaced appropriately against a colorful wall depicting New Testament scenes and the life of Christ. These paintings stretched from either side at the entrance to the high altar. They stood as a testimony of the contributions of the great Florentine and Umbrian Masters of the Renaissance; men like Botticelli, della Gatta, Diamante, Fiammingo, Ghirlandajo, Matteo da Lecce, Perugino, Pier di Cosimo, Pinturicchio, Rosselli, Salviati, and Signorelli.
Before the main altar were three chairs. These were for the Scrutinarians, those chosen to monitor and announce the votes.
As Stephen and Colin snaked their way around sawhorses and scaffolds, they had a clear view of the far wall. The Australian was in awe of the magnificent scene where Michelangelo's Last Judgment overpowered the room from floor to ceiling. Rembert did not want to move from his spot as he surveyed this masterpiece.
The two men stood gazing at the marvels of such an eschatological event as envisioned by 'God's artist.' The thought flashed through Navarro's mind that men like Michelangelo were neither party to the mechanizations of the sinning Popes, nor part of the necessary reform. Buonarotti had nothing to do with the recovery wrought by grace-filled holy Popes who would follow in the times of the Tridentine era. Yet, as Stephen craned his neck to focus his eyes on the ceiling and Michelangelo's vast and ingenious depiction of creation, the figure of man and God reaching for each other, just inches out of touch, caused him to think. Here was credence that this masterful artist could have been a Doctor of the Church for he taught through his art. For ages to come Michelangelo would evangelize and be an inspiration to sinner and saint alike through his magnificent, indescribable works translated on canvas, ceiling, mosaic, ceramic, stone, wood, terrazzo, marble and granite.
A master to be sure.
Next: PART IV: The Shrouding TENTH CHAPTER Episode Seven
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