Practised observers of the papal conclave, which got underway in Rome yesterday, have described the first black smoke to emerge from the Sistine Chapel chimney as ‘thick, potent, and smelling suspiciously of weed’.
‘The election of a new pope is one of the most sacred rites in the Catholic faith,’ said Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Archbishop of Vienna. ‘It’s also pretty boring and it can take a while, so we encourage the cardinals to bring their own supplies for the pray-in as a way to pass the time. Plus a man of God must be prepared to receive spiritual guidance from any available source, whether that’s Columbian, Lebanese or Dutch.’
The papal conclave began with cardinals solemnly reciting ancient litanies as each filed into the Sistine Chapel holding his holy baggie containing the personal stash that would see him through the election. Others carried in trays of home-baked goods, while a small number shouldered religious paraphernalia traditional to papal elections – the water pipe and gravity bong.
Ghanaian Peter Turkson was excited by the prospect of the conclave. ‘It is an opportunity to showcase the diversity of the modern Catholic church as cardinals from right across the globe flock to Rome bringing with them the finest smoking materials their countries have to offer. Black, brown, red – you name it, we’ll be smoking every different variety until a new pope is chosen.’
Guido Marini, bongmaster of ceremonies, is overseeing proceedings. ‘After locking the Chapel doors to keep out observers and keep in the smoke, we’ll start with a game of Taxi,’ he said. ‘The first cardinal must take a drag on the special Pontiff Spliff and hold it down while it’s passed round the other 114 cardinals. It’s always a really effective way of narrowing the field.’
As the afternoon dragged on and an atmosphere of profound mellowness descended on the conclave, a Domino’s Pizza delivery moped could be seen pulling into the Sistine Chapel car park to deal with what officials described as ‘an unholy outbreak of the munchies’. Later on, however, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi was ejected from the premises for failing to pull himself together after a three-hour fit of the giggles.
With the conclave entering its second day and the crowds outside accepting they may be in for the long haul, all eyes are on the chimney for the first sight of the white smoke which will indicate that the cardinals have moved on to smoking crack.