Gehlen students learn about conclave through mock election
By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
LE MARS – Standing at the front of the classroom with their ballot in hand, Gehlen Catholic students recited this prayer – the same one used by the cardinals - before putting the slip on the paten and then dropping it into the urn: “I call on the Lord Jesus to be my judge to witness that I am voting for the one that I believe to be worthy.”
As the world cardinals met on the first day of the conclave to elect a new pope, students in eighth grade through twelfth grade at Gehlen Catholic School were learning about the process by participating in a mock papal election in religion class.
Gregorian chant played as students entered the classroom and theology teacher Cecilia Henrich told them that it was the same music that played as the cardinals processed into the Sistine Chapel for the conclave.
She told them that most conclaves in modern times have taken three to five days, although Pope Benedict XVI had been elected in two days with just four ballots. Four ballots are taken each full day.
“It takes two-thirds of the collective votes to be elected pope,” said Henrich, who held a mock conclave in each of her religion classes. “They have said this conclave might take a little longer because there are no clear frontrunners.”
Just as the cardinals began with prayer, the teacher had the students take out their prayer books for the Liturgy of Hours. They prayed before beginning the process.
Henrich also discussed some history of the conclave with the students. She told them that conclave meant “with keys.” After cardinals had difficulties electing a pope back in the 1200s, they locked them in a room and that tradition held.
They watched a video about the conclave process before writing their choice for pope on a ballot. The teacher explained that the cardinals take a solemn oath to keep the proceedings secret and they are even encouraged to disguise their own handwriting so the others do not know who they voted for.
Then the voting began. Henrich, with the assistance of two students, read off names posted on the ballots. No cardinal received two-thirds votes required for election; however, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras did receive the most votes. He was known to the students because they had adopted him through the Adopt a Cardinal prayer program.
Taylor Peters, a sophomore at Gehlen, said by participating in the mock election it helped her better understand about what the cardinals go through in the selection of a new pope.
“It’s very interesting how they do the whole process with the sworn secrecy. I think it would get kind of intense,” she said.
Katrina Vaske, sophomore, said she found it interesting to know that the cardinals are locked in for the conclave and learned a great deal about what they have to do in the process. She added that it would be tough to take the two votes twice a day.
Aaron Britt, sophomore, said he didn’t know that much about the conclave prior to mock election. Given that his teacher had been present in Rome for the last election, she offered the students some unique insight.
When Henrich and her husband Tom had been in Rome for the election of Pope Benedict XVI, she found the process to be very interesting and exciting.
“When we were there for Benedict’s election it was very unclear whether the smoke was white or black. So they add something besides the smoke, they also ring the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica. I remember standing in St. Peter’s Square when the smoke came out. Half were saying, ‘It’s black smoke, we don’t have a pope; the other half were saying it’s white and they were clapping and cheering,” she explained. After the bells began to ring, they knew the Catholic Church had a new pope.
Henrich explained that they often do mock elections for the president and she thought participating in the papal election would be a great learning experience for the students.
“I think the students were surprised by how much prayer goes into it and how much preparation and contemplation goes into it,” she said. “My hope is that they learned a lot and that now they will be more attentive to who the next pope is and that each time they go through an election process throughout their lifetime, they will be more interested in it.”
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