Today, the world witnessed the election of a new pope, Pope Francis. This may be one of the only times that A) newscasters speak Latin, B) conservatives and liberals alike wait so eagerly for a puff of smoke.
I was in the car when the announcement took place, and, history-making aside, I couldn’t help delighting in the sheer awkwardness that engulfed NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” (show archive available after 6pm EST). Don’t get me wrong; I love the show, but this was a glorious moment for snark.
First, speakers faced the time gap between the billowing of white smoke and the presentation of the new pope, brought to you by “Let’s fill time listening to the sounds of the crowd. It’s the Italian version of elevator music.”
Then, there was the surprise of the announcement itself. Lacking background information about the new pope, they seemed to strategize, “Speak very slowly, one line at a time as our interns research feverishly, and if all else fails, turn to Wikipedia.”
Once the translated announcement was broadcasted, the hosts had the task of determining if the new pope’s name translated to the English “Franciscum,” “Franciscus,” “Franciscos,” “Francisco,” or just plain “Francis.” Ah, for the days of Latin education. Now, we have to turn to that self-same Wikipedia:
The new papal name is usually given in the genitive case in Latin, corresponding to the translation “who takes the name of …” (e.g., Ioannis vicesimi tertii, Ioannis Pauli primi etc.), although it can also be declined in the accusative case, corresponding to the translation “who takes the name …”, as was the case in 1963 and 2013 when Pope Paul VI’s and Pope Francis’s regnal names were announced as Paulum sextum and Franciscum respectively.
Thanks, Wikipedia. You’re so smart.
And finally, there was another time gap between the announcement and the presentation. So, we talked extensively about the men in suits scurrying around the platform. After all, they, unlike the Latin surrounding the procedure, are something we can understand.
None of this is to undermine the seriousness of the papal conclave or the potential impact of the new pope on the Catholic and non-Catholic world. That’s the main dish, and I happily grant responsibility for it to those more knowledgeable. However, in this as in all things, I’m happier when life’s major events come with a side of snark.