Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
As Pope Francis officially began his first full day as the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church Thursday, local junior high students elected a pope of their own in a simulated Papal Conclave convened by St. Simon Parish School in Los Altos.
“What we’re trying to do here is evidence the ritual,” said St. Simon Principal Steve Rummell, who suggested the simulated conclave five days earlier following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. “We’re living out the actual experience.”
Rummell prepared the logistics for a model conclave that would replicate the environment in Rome. Volunteers imitated the red capes of the cardinals and cut the linings out of costume pirate hats to copy the small, round, red zuccehetto caps the cardinals wear. Seven schools in the Diocese of San Jose sent student delegates as “cardinals” in response to Rummell’s invitation to participate.
“How often is this going to happen?” Rummell asked. “It’s one thing to have a lesson plan, it’s another to do the living, breathing thing.”
Traditionally shrouded in secrecy, the Papal Conclave gathered in Rome last week was isolated from the outside world and inaccessible to media and the public.
After the College of Cardinals – the official electors of the new Bishop of Rome – took their oaths, all outsiders were expelled and the doors to the Sistine Chapel closed behind them. The conclave is secluded to ensure that electors are not influenced by politics and to facilitate the required two-thirds majority vote as quickly as possible. The tradition of a private selection process originated in 1274 as a consequence of a papal conclave fraught with internal conflict among the cardinals that lasted for nearly three years.
When the 64 seventh- and eighth-grade “cardinals” convened in St. Simon’s gymnasium for the model Papal Conclave last week, dozens of parents, classmates and media documented the process – much different from the calm experienced by the cardinals in Rome.
Another major difference in the St. Simon conclave was the representation of an equal number of girls as boys – the College of Cardinals comprises men only.Adorned in long white vestments, with improvised red capes and skullcaps, the “papal electors” at St. Simon dressed for their roles in selecting one of their classmates as their model pope.
The process began with a prayer blessing in the church, followed by a procession into the gymnasium, where the designated electors took a biblical oath. The student electors alternated between mingling and lobbying amongst themselves, and sitting at long, white tables arranged like those at the Sistine Chapel to fill out their secret ballots with the names of nominees.
A pope is elected
Following three rounds of ballots, Duncan Chisholm, an eighth-grader from Catholic Academy of Sunnyvale, was announced as the pope-elect.
“It was very shocking at first,” said Chisholm, who was rushed to a wardrobe change as bells tolled from the church’s bell tower. Chisholm emerged into the schoolyard in white garments with a gold pectoral cross.
St. Simon used a cherry picker to hoist him into the air to hover above the crowd of students gathered to receive the blessing.
Chisholm seemed both overwhelmed and humbled by the experience. He embraced his temporary role, offering waves, casual high-fives with his classmates and even deeper reflection on how the experience prompted him to think about becoming a priest.
“I didn’t expect it, but I think God has plans for all of us,” Chisholm said. “There might be something he is trying to lead me to.”
For a full album of photos from the model papal conclave, click here.