The Habemus Papam Exhibition
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
God's choice visible in Papal elections

On Thursday afternoon, 7 December 2006, the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, presided at the inauguration of the Exhibition: "'Habemus Papam': Pontifical elections from St. Peter to Benedict XVI", which consists of a large collection of artworks that illustrate this theme and focus on the Papal Conclave. They are on display in the official reception rooms of the Apostolic Palace of the Lateran. The following is a translation of the Cardinal's discourse, which was given in Italian.

Your Eminences,
Your Most Reverend Excellencies, Mr President of the Province, Distinguished Authorities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like first of all to express my sincere and heartfelt thanks to those who contributed to setting up the important Exhibition we are inaugurating this evening.

It is entitled: "'Habemus Papam': Pontifical elections from St. Peter to Benedict XVI".

On behalf of His Holiness, I would like to thank Cardinal Francesco Marchisano, Honorary President of the Technical Committee of the project who planned the Exhibition, Dr. Enrico Gasbarra, President of the Province of Rome, Dr. Giuseppe Lepore, President of the European Centre for Tourism, Dr. Francesco Buranelli, Director of the Vatican Museums, and the representatives of many Vatican and Italian institutions which offered their collaboration in setting up this impressive display.

I respectfully greet the Cardinals present, the civil and military Authorities and those figures who have desired to grace this solemn and important event with their presence. I extend a special greeting to Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, President of the Governorate. Lastly, I extend my greetings to everyone present.

I take the floor after the distinguished speakers who have preceded me in order to say at the outset that this Exhibition is a "unique" event of its kind, primarily because of the place in which it is on display, that is, the official reception rooms in the Lateran's Apostolic Palace.

This was the official home of the Roman Pontiffs until their exile in Avignon, and since 1377 it has hosted a large number of conclaves. If these rooms could speak, they would tell us of the many happenings that accompanied the election of the Pontiffs.

This Exhibition is also unique because it offers to the attention of visitors a particularly rich choice of art works from famous Vatican and Roman collections, each one carefully chosen to illustrate the process of Papal elections down the centuries, from that of Peter to that of Benedict XVI.

God guides the choice of Popes

Such an undertaking, which as one can easily understand demanded patient research, was conceived in such a way that if on the one hand it offers the most complete picture possible of the historical development of the time, on the other, it does not fail to highlight the mysterious action of God who guides the Church, founded on Peter and on his legitimate Successors, with his providence.

In fact, by the Redeemer's expressly declared desire, the Pope is the "rock" on which the spiritual edifice of ecclesial communion is founded. "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church" (Mt 16:18).

Kefa, stone. To bring the Pope's indispensable role in the Church into focus we must start from these words of Christ. The eminent value of the Exhibition, taking place during the 500th anniversary of St. Peter's Basilica and of the establishment of the Vatican Museums, lies in the fact that it helps people understand that it is always he, the Lord, who guides the choice of Supreme Pontiffs, even in circumstances marked at times by human frailty and political influence.

We might reasonably imagine that in the past, Rome and the world accompanied with equal emotion, if in a different way, the succession of Pontiffs and the celebration of conclaves. This Exhibition helps us to become more familiar with their norms and forms, ceremonials, acts and customs, worked out and perfected with time.

It is Christ who leads the Church with the power of his Spirit, entrusting her to his Vicar on earth: the Pope, "Servant of servants". And even when it might seem that intrigue, subterfuge and confrontation were prevailing, the Pope has never failed in his mission.

In this regard, during the Rite of Baptism of several infants in the beginning of this year in the Sistine Chapel, precisely where conclaves are held, the Holy Father Benedict XVI said that we do not know what will happen in the world in the future, in the next 100 or so years. Yet, we can be sure of one thing: the Church will exist until the end of time. And the Lord has made the Pope the solid foundation of the Church.

Despite its shadows, the history of the Church is thus a history of faith, love and zeal, as is clearly visible from the way in which the various sections of the Exhibition have been set forth.

In retracing the phases and procedures connected with the funerals of the Pontiffs, with the conclave, with the proclamation of the new Pope and with the ceremonies for his "accession", we realize what an important contribution to the Church's life numerous ecclesiastics have made. One can even feel the Christian people's participation, charged with strong spiritual emotion.

How can we forget, for example, the days of John Paul II's death, the Conclave and the election of Benedict XVI: what an impressive convergence of people captured by the media for the whole world!

The purpose of the conclave

Lastly, I would like to emphasize another aspect. This interesting initiative, which I would like to praise once again, congratulating all those who together organized it and set it up, elucidates the reasons that have led through successive reforms to the structure of the conclave today and that highlight the importance of the conclave for the Church and for the continuity of her Supreme Pastors.

Conclaves were first regulated subsequent to controversies linked to the Conclave that lasted for as long as 33 months and led on 1 September 1271 to the election of Blessed Gregory X. Since the Constitution Ubi Periculum of 1274 to this day, the concern has always been to ensure that the election of the one whom God chooses to guide his flock is protected from external influences.

Today, the large plumed fans, the tiaras, thrones, gestatorial chairs, ceremonies and customs that went with the cultures and habits of the past have disappeared, but what is essential to the ministry of the Successor of Peter remains unchanged.

In this regard, the conclave constitutes a moment of eloquent importance. Mourning for the Pope's death changes into prayerful expectation during the conclave, and then into joy at the election of the new Pope, when the Cardinal Proto-Dean announces from the central loggia of St. Peter's Basilica Urbi et Orbi: "Habemus Papam ". I express my and your respect to him as we think back to the Conclave by which Benedict XVI was elected.

A Pope dies, but not the Pope. Precisely in this perspective, the conclave acquires a unique spiritual value. It is the verifiable proof that the Holy Spirit, through the human cooperation of the Cardinals, assures the continuity of the Pontiffs' succession. And no force or human power can break it.

At every conclave, the truth of Christ's promise to Peter is reasserted: "On this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18).


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
10 January 2007, page 4

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