The magnificent Sistine Chapel. One of the marvels of God's creation for it was through the brush of Michelangelo Buonarotti that this was so brilliantly illustrated in all God's glory and majestic awe. This 16th century chapel, relatively small and claustrophic in size, was the very same room where the master had spent so much time on his back. Now, for the next several days, it would be home to twenty-one or sixty-one Cardinals and their secretaries. The most this building held had been 112 Cardinals for the election after the death of John Paul II.
It had been crowded, suffocating with so many squished into this relatively small chapel. It had taken fifteen votes before Cardinal Tommaso Carandizi had been elected as a compromise choice, an interim locum-tenens, if you will. To the surprise of many who did not know him, especially the media, he chose the name Clement. To those who knew him they expected him to honor a man from his own region - Cardinal Lorenzo Giovanni Vincenzo Antonio Ganganelli who had become Pope Clement XIV on May 19, 1769.
The 112, which swelled to 248 when the other authorized personnel had been added, had been housed quite nicely in the Domus Sanctae Mariae, a no-frills modern hotel within Vatican City just west of the modern Pauline Hall. It had been built in the mid-nineties to accommodate the large number of Prelates and dignitaries. Because they had to traverse from the south side of St. Peter's to the Sistine Chapel on the north side, news media had tried to record every step. It had been a nightmare in preserving the integrity of secrecy with so many prying electronic eyes.
The much, much smaller number now would be a blessing in disguise. Even though the Holy See was prepared to accommodate a large number, for now Vatican personnel were much more receptive to catering to a smaller group in the more traditional, more intimate, safer environs of the Apostolic Palace.
Because of the great casualty in Iraq where 81 princes of the Church lost their lives, this would be one of the smallest conclaves since the great Western Schism. That was a time when the cracks of simony, indifference and profligacies of previous regimes had greatly weakened the fortress of Holy Mother Church. That ultimately led to the Protestant Reformation. However, here in this great hall was born the concept for a counter reformation that would manifest itself in the Council of Trent, stemming the tide of corruption and revolt that had so rendered the Mystical Bride of Christ impotent. This magnificent room had served as the nerve center of the Holy See until Pope Paul III coerced Michelangelo out of self-imposed exile to complete the great dome of St. Peter's. The comparisons to the state of the Church today did not escape Stephen.
Dateline: Vatican City - Sistine Chapel - November 5, 1:40 p.m.
As Navarro stood with the Australian media mogul Colin Rembert, the Oblate Monsignor couldn't help but think how this sacred place had been the birthing canal for countless Popes. Many of them were holy men worthy of the highest office God could confer on man. Others were not as worthy. Still others had ridden in on the devil's coattails despite promptings of the Holy Ghost to the contrary. Their deeds, fruits and legacies had determined their status before the Almighty.
"Monsignore, un momento per favore." It was the custodian Prince Elisio Borendici III.
"Yes, Prince Elisio?" Stephen responded.
"When will we know - quanti Cardinales?"
Stephen smiled at this faithful Custodian of the Conclave. "Soon," he reassured.
Elisio was in his late forties, balding a bit on the top, but his hair was still coal black. He was wiry in build, yet possessed a muscular 5' 10" frame. His family had been the official Keeper of the Key during Interregni . For over two centuries during this time of sede vacantism their family crest was recognized. whenever the chair of Peter was empty between the death of a Pontiff and the election of another. This royal family, which had seen the brief sede vacantist period of 18 Popes. Yet the heraldry was signatory only since they possessed no power, only the pride of safeguarding the Conclave. Publishers had offered millions for the memoirs of this family, the secrets that had never been revealed. Steadfastly the Borendici family had kept the secrets, their integrity. Elisio's great grandfather had seen the election of Cardinal Giuseppe Melchiore Sarto who went on to become in the honors of the Church and Heaven St. Pius X. Elisio's father had ushered in the Vatican II Popes with the election of Angelo Roncalli in 1959, and Elisio himself had become the head keeper in 2003 with the passing of his father. Thus the third Elisio in the grand family of the royal Borendicis had been the Keeper of the Keys for the election of Pope Clement XV. God had assured that the Borendici legacy would continue, for already Elisio and his wife Alicia had been the proud recipients of four boys and two girls. Marco was nearing nineteen and being groomed to someday becoming the new Keeper of the Key - the next prince.
"Oh, Mr. Rembert, I would like you to meet a prince of a man. This is Prince Elisio Borundici. Elisio, this is Colin Rembert from Australia."
"Please to meet you, mate." Colin warmly replied. "So it is your family flag that now flies over the Vatican?"
"Si, Mr. Rembert. We are both honored and sad." Prince Borundici's sincerity was genuine.
"It is the custom, Mr. Rembert," Stephen informed, "that upon the death of a Pope the Papal Flag is removed during the novemdieles and during the time of Conclave until the new Pope is chosen. In its pace is flown the coat of arms of the Prince of the Keys, which has been the Borundici family since the time of Pius IX."
Wanting to offset attention to himself, Elisio sought to change the subject. "Mama mia, you have come long way, Mr. Rembert. No?"
Colin was chuckling. "Yes, but well worth it. Especially after meeting you, mate."
"You are too kind, Signore. You flatter me without purpose."
"Yes. We Aussies are like that."
"By the way, Mr. Rembert," Stephen interjected. "Elisio's family also have the proud tradition of burning the ballots. He is the one who signals the white smoke if a Pope has been elected."
"No kidding, mate? Tell me more."
Elisio was somewhat embarrassed, shifting uneasily for he truly believed what he did was not for man but for God's glory and honor. The Prince shrunk from praise. Such was the caliber of men who are dedicated to truth and tradition. Stephen was tempted to continue the conversation, but time was running thin.
"Listen, Mr. Rembert, I have to check on some things in that room up there. Talk a bit with Prince Borundici. Take your time."
Stephen quickly mounted a 30' high custom-made circular ramp five-feet wide and arrived at a small, specially built control room. It was an ideal vantage point for all the proceedings. Stephen was warmly welcomed by his friend Cardinal Guido Marcini at the controls.
Cardinal Guido was a jovial soul, despite his permanent wheelchair status. One of the most beloved of the College of Cardinals, he had been responsible for bringing much of the Vatican technology from the 18th century into the 21st century. He had had a stroke during his 72nd year. After being resigned to a wheelchair and a whole new lifestyle in the studios of Vatican Universe, the incorporation of Vatican radio, TV and the web, were redesigned to accommodate the handicapped. Allowing Cardinal "Marconi," as he was affectionately called, to continue his work which he loved, added many years to his life. Now 83 years of age, Marcini was three years removed from being eligible to participate in the Conclave. However, because of his Cardinalate he was allowed to attend because he was needed as a worker, mastering the security before and during the Sacred Conclave.
He was anxious to share his expertise with Stephen, to show him how one could detect any outside interference. Stephen was beaming as he listened and marveled at the enthusiasm of this loving Prelate who truly did not have one enemy - except most certainly the devil.
Shortly they were interrupted by Colin Rembert, who had just arrived, huffing and puffing from racing up the circular ramp. After a short introduction, Stephen cautioned Rembert about the confidentiality of what the Australian reporter would be shown. The enthused Marcini gave Colin a quick run-down of all the equipment which surveyed every inch of the room. Security at its tightest. Though Stephen had heard the spiel a few times before, he still marveled over this beloved old man's Mastery of his craft.
"Don't tell him, Mr. Rembert, that you can't teach an old dog new tricks," Stephen chuckled.
"Si. I am always learning something new. Here. I show you how it is working. Si?"
With that he flipped a few switches. Immediately an alarm showed there was a bug, some kind of electronic interference in the room. Cardinal Marcini seemed stunned. He had checked it thoroughly. Someone had penetrated the circumference. As he moved a few levers the signal grew stronger in locating the bug. Right in front of him. Stephen immediately understood.
"Colin, do you have a hidden microphone or recorder on you?"
"Why, no I - -, oh, wait. Guilty, mate."
He pulled out a pen from his jacket. It was a normal looking silver pen. "If you'll forgive me," the Australian commentator said apologetically, "I would like to explain this, your Eminence. It is something we have been working on down under. To show you I need you to turn off the surveillance equipment for a short time, mates."
"We can't do that, Colin." Stephen protested, then turned toward Cardinal Guido. "Your Eminence, I think we have a problem. The scanners did not detect the pen at the entrance, yet you identified it immediately. We need to increase the sensitivity of the scanners."
"I am afraid, Monsignore, they are at the highest caliber possible. Portable scanners are still not sophisticated enough to pick up ultra high-pitched satellite signals."
"Can we be sure then, your Eminence," Stephen expressed concern, "that this room is safe from all surveillance?"
"Si. This has been a good test. No?"
"Glad I can contribute, reverends," Rembert opined.
"No challenge is too great, Monsignore," the Cardinal offered. "Let us see what Mr. Rembert has to show us."
"You mean shut down the surveillance system in the room?" Stephen questioned the Cardinal's rationale.
"I believe we could, Monsignore. I have a back up in case it is a trick After all, I have enough confidence in my equipment that it picked up something so acute as a pen. Perhaps I must calibrate it so it will not interfere with pens and other non-electronic equipment."
"That would cause a riot if it is that sensitive," agreed Stephen. "Anyway, it's only a pen."
"Uh, not exactly." Rembert seemed contrite, as he held the pen up. He clicked it once and a small beam appeared. Another click and two fiber-optic short arms, each less than an eighth of an inch, extended from both sides of the pen.
"Now my fine Fathers, I will show you the wonders of the future," Rembert beamed as his consternation turned to a smile.
Within seven seconds his words reverberated as Stephen turned to see himself magnified in living color on the wide wooden beams that helped brace the custom-built platform. The pixels were crystal clear. The projection was perfect, the audio amazingly clear and tonal.
Cardinal Marcini was clapping like a giddy kid which only prompted Colin to continue the show as he faced the camera out towards the main nave of the Sistine Chapel.
"Bene. Truly amazing, sir," emoted the Cardinal gleefully.
"You like?" encouraged Colin Rembert. "If I click this button what I am transmitting will go out to 50 million viewers in Australia and New Zealand and throughout Oceania."
He clicked and started to pan past the bronze gates within the room to the altar beneath Michelangelo's Last Judgment, voicing over. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is Colin Rembert reporting from the heart of the Sistine Chapel just a little over 24 hours from the start of the Sacred Conclave. I am standing with Cardinal Guido Marcini and Monsignor Stephen Navarro, an Oblate priest who is head of communications for the Vatican. Tell me, your Eminence," he pointed the beam towards Cardinal Marcini who was caught up in the magic.
"Si! Si!" the wheelchair-bound Prelate willingly offered, even before Colin could ask a question.
"You are in charge of seeing that all proceedings here in the Sistine Chapel are carried off without a hitch?"
"Well, no," Cardinal Marcini said sheepishly, "I'm really just the--"
Stephen stepped in to the rescue. "He's the coordinator of all surveillance to assure that no transmissions of any kind are made from these quarters. I hate to be a spoilsport to your viewers, but I must insist we end this now because of security reasons. I hope your viewers understand."
"The good Father has spoken, dear friends, and, even though these rules apply to the Conclave itself, not the preparations, I will abide. So I will say goodbye for now. Stay tuned for further updates from Rome. This is Colin Rembert saying, G'day."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Rembert," Stephen said in an exegetic tone. "But if we--"
"I know," he laughed in his hearty Australian brogue, "if we allow one, mate, we have to allow everyone."
Both he and the Cardinal were now smiling broadly.
"Well, uh, no," Stephen corrected him, "if we allow anyone to film in here we are jeopardizing the confidentiality of a very, very sacred tradition."
"I understand. Begging your pardon, Monsignor. Here, as a token of my appreciation I want you to have this." With that Colin Rembert placed in the startled Monsignor's hand the very pen over which he had just transmitted his report. "But first," as he withdrew it from Stephen's hand, "I'll make it functional. Can't be having a pen that doesn't write, now can we, mate?" He looked for a piece of paper on the custom desk shelf and quickly scribbled 'To Monsignor Navarro. Thank you. Colin Rembert.' Picking up the paper and pen he gently handed it to Stephen.
Stephen was dumbstruck. "But, I can't accept this. It must cost thousands of--"
"Nonsense," blurted Rembert, "We have many more. Our technicians who designed it call this beta technology the "Penultimate."
"Clever," marveled Stephen.
"Consider it a prototype that we want you to have with our compliments. I will see that the good Cardinal Marcini receives one as well, and Prince Borundici, and I will reserve one for the new Pope as--"
Monsignor Navarro cautioned him, "I think one or two is fine. We don't want to test the waters of simony now, do we Mr. Rembert?"
"You have a point, Monsignor, and please, call me Colin. All my viewers do."
"Well then, Colin. I believe we should be bidding adieu to the good Cardinal here for I have duties to attend to."
"Yes, of course, Monsignor," Rembert acknowledged and turned toward Cardinal Marcini. "It was an honor to meet you, your Eminence." The handicapped Prelate reached out his hand and Colin instinctively stooped to one knee to kiss his ring. Then he and Stephen began descending the platform.
"Thank you again for your hospitality, Monsignor. And if you are ever in our country, I would like you to be my guest."
"You'll put a shrimp on the barbie, so to speak, mate." Stephen couldn't resist as they reached the floor of the Chapel.
"You'll have to work on the accent, Monsignor, but yes, I'll put a shrimp on the barbie, though I think smoked ribs would be more to your liking. Shrimp are better boiled."
They both had a good laugh as they exited smiling. That was such a rare commodity lately. Stephen wanted to drink long of the sweet nectar of laughter and mirth, something so infrequent in these times of terror and malice. For so long he had thirsted for the good feelings, the camaraderie that Colin Rembert had imparted this day. A man of good will. God bless him.
He escorted the Australian back to the Bronze Doors and then quickly made his way toward the supply room as he mused on how he was going to use this special high-tech pen Rembert had so generously given him.
And then, as a thief in the night, doubt shrouded his thoughts. The demons of suspicion crashed his euphoria. Could it be a bug? Could he unsuspectingly have accepted a gift from the enemy without recognizing that the devil had many faces? Confusion mounted within Stephen's mind, a mind that had to be sharp to stay a step ahead of the Legion.
Next: PART IV: The Shrouding TENTH CHAPTER Episode Eight
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