Monday, March 11, 2013


Not quite yet though -- habebimus is the future tense just to remind us that "we will have a Pope". In the mean time, we are in a period of interregnum, when the seat of Peter is vacant (sede vacante).

When the Cardinals in the conclave (con +clave means "with keys" to indicate that they are lock up, sequestered being a particularly popular term these days) finally elect the next Successor to the Prince of the Apostles, they will burn the ballots in the chimney and send a white smoke signal to announce they have concluded their deliberations.  I suspect that burning the ballots might have once been a political safeguard, but it means that while the results are known to the world, all physical evidence of the deliberation is destroyed and the votes are now entrusted to the eternal memory of God alone.

While we are praying and waiting to learn of our new Holy Father (Fr. Aidan Nichols OP once told me that only the current pope is called "Holy Father") I thought it would be interesting to see the earliest known film footage of a pope: the much beloved Pope Leo XIII who both revived modern studies in Thomism with his encyclical Aeterni Patris, and developed the basis for Catholic Social Teaching with his great encyclical on capital and labor in the modern economy and social structure, Rerum Novarum. Pope Leo XIII declare the Holy Year of 1900, entrusting the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

During the pilgrimage events of the Holy Year 1900, Pope Leo XIII also played a key role in St Therese of Lisieux being allowed to enter the Carmelite monastery, and thus gave the Church one of the great gifts of the 20th century.The Little Flower's own description of that event is touching:

After the Mass of thanksgiving, following that of the Holy Father the audience began. Leo XIII was seated on a large armchair; he was dressed simply in a white cassock, with a cape of the same color, and on his head was a little skullcap. Around him were cardinals, archbishops, and bishops, but I saw them only in general, being occupied solely with the Holy Father. We passed in front of him in procession; each pilgrim knelt in turn, kissed the foot and hand of Leo XIII, received his blessing, and two noble guards touched him as a sign to rise (touched the pilgrim, for I explain myself so badly one would think it was the Pope.)

Before entering the pontifical apartment, I was really determined to speak, but I felt my courage weaken when I saw Father Révérony standing by the Holy Father's right side. Almost at the same instant, they told us on the Pope's behalf that it was forbidden to speak, as this would prolong the audience too much. I turned toward my dear Céline for advice: "Speak!", she said. A moment later I was at the Holy Father's feet. I kissed his slipper and he presented his hand, but instead of kissing it I joined my own and lifting tear-filled eyes to his face, I cried out: "Most Holy Father, I have a great favor to ask you!"

The Sovereign Pontiff lowered his head towards me in such a way that my face almost touched his, and I saw his eyes, black and deep, fixed on me and they seemed to penetrate to the depths of my soul. "Holy Father, in honor of your Jubilee, permit me to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen!"

Emotion undoubtedly made my voice tremble. He turned to Father Révérony who was standing at me with surprise and displeasure and said: "I don't understand very well." Now if God had permitted it, it would have been easy for Father Révérony to obtain what I desired, but it was the cross and not consolation God willed to give me.

"Most Holy Father," answered the Vicar General, "this is a child who wants to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen, but the Superiors are considering the matter at the moment." "Well, my child," the Holy Father replied, looking at me kindly, "do what the Superiors tell you!" Resting my hands on his knees, I made a final effort, saying in a suppliant voice: "Oh! Holy Father, if you say yes, everybody will agree!" He gazed at me steadily, speaking these words and stressing each syllable: "Go . . . go . . . You will enter if God wills it!" (His accent had something about it so penetrating and so convincing, it seems to me I still hear it.)

I was encouraged by the Holy Father's kindness and wanted to speak again, but the two guards touched me politely to make me rise. As this was not enough they took me by the arms and Father Révérony helped them lift me, for I stayed there with joined hands resting on the knees of Leo XIII. It was with force they dragged me from his feet. At the moment I was thus lifted, the Holy Father placed his hand on my lips, then raised it to bless me. Then my eyes filled with tears and Father Révérony was able to contemplate at least as many diamonds as he had seen at Bayeux, the two guards literally carried me to the door and there a third one gave me a medal of Leo XIII.
 So while we wait for further news, here is the film, one of the earliest known records of live video and audio of anyone in the early age of cinematography:

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