ROME – These are crazy days in Rome, where limbo reigns in parliament and papacy.
Italy is usually a pretty anarchic place, with people bucking rules on everything from crossing the street to paying taxes. But the anarchy’s going a bit far: Who’s running the country? Who’s running the church?
For now, at least, nobody really knows.
Romans are living truly surreal times when a bearded comedian is now one of the nation’s most powerful leaders, former Premier Silvio Berlusconi is mired in court battles, and aging cardinals from around the world are mobbed by paparazzi as if they were Hollywood stars.
Then there are the eerie silences in a normally raucous city.
With no ruling pope, St. Peter’s Square was strangely quiet as the Vatican saw its first Sunday without a papal window blessing, a weekly appointment that will normally draw thousands of pilgrims and tourists. With no government after inconclusive elections, downtown streets are blessedly free of the crush of lawmakers in dark blue official cars that speed through congested Rome with legislative impunity – one of the notorious perks of being a parliamentarian.
Since Italians recently voted in national elections, it’s no surprise to see the walls of Rome still plastered with campaign posters.
But – a poster urging votes for a cardinal in the upcoming papal conclave?
That’s precisely the sight that Romans are seeing near several Rome basilicas – with the campaign-style image of Africa’s strongest papal contender looking up to the heavens against a slogan reading: “AT THE CONCLAVE VOTE PETER KODWO APPIAH TURKSON.”
Nobody knows who’s behind the “campaign” for the Ghanian cardinal but it’s widely regarded as a spoof ahead of the solemn meetings in the Sistine Chapel to elect the next pope
Despite all the security at the Vatican as cardinals meet to organize the conclave, a prankster in bishop’s garb, an impressive cross across his chest and decidedly un-clerical black sneakers, managed to sneak into the congregation of cardinals this week and mingle.
Yet perhaps the biggest gatecrasher of all is Beppe Grillo, who has upset the established order by riding a self-styled “tsunami” of disgust with the powers-that-be and grabbing a quarter of the parliamentary vote. Grillo has no qualms about seeming a little bit off-the-wall: He was recently photographed jogging on a beach wearing what looked like a space alien outfit.
But for now, the cardinals are commanding the spotlight.
Each morning and afternoon, as they set out for their meetings, they are mobbed by a frightening wave of journalists staked out for hours waiting for them to appear in the narrow streets surrounding the Vatican.
Meanwhile, the conclave to elect a new pope may be drawing near.
Vietnamese Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man arrived on Thursday, signaling at last that a vote could be taken on a start date now that all 115 cardinal electors are present.