Following the papal trail

This is my weekly column for the Saturday, March 16, 2013 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. I’m told it’s running a day early this week so the paper can fit the rest of it’s annual edition material into the Sunday edition. So, happy Saturday!

Following the papal trail
By Aaron J. Brown

First, congratulations to Pope Francis (former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio) and Catholics the world over. It was an historic week, one that reminds of the deep tradition and impact of the very first Christian church. I have to admit, most were surprised to see an Argentinean emerge onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square to meet the faithful.

Then again, no one expects the Spanish Invocation.

Sigh. Dangerous territory for non-Catholics like me this week. I really do respect the church, even if I’m not a member. But it’s a big hat. And big robes. And the guy who did the Latin translation on the live TV news feed sounded a little bit like the comedian Stephen Wright. What’s a guy to do?

I have to say, though an ancient tradition, the pomp and circumstance of the Conclave sure fires up the imagination. And for political junkies like me coming down off the fall elections, you can’t beat polling by smoke. Though the outcome of the election to replace Pope Emeritus Benedict was of no direct consequence to my life, I could be heard remarking to my wife, “you seeing anything about smoke in that chimney?”

Colored smoke is a great way to handle news. If it weren’t for the many environmental implications, I’d like all my news to be smoke-based. Put a big smokestack up on the tallest hill. Mail out a really big color chart. Then, when we roll out of bed, we’d know the story at a glance.

Blue smoke would indicate “cold and windy” or “sluggish hiring amid high unemployment.”

Yellow smoke would indicate “sunny and pleasant” or “Twins win!”

Red smoke would indicate that a Hollywood starlet had some trouble with her dress and we should all be really upset but mostly we just want to see the pictures.

Green smoke would indicate “find out more at our website, W-W-W (DOT) SMOKENEWS (DOT) COM (SLASH) SMOKE ‘EM IF WE GOT THE STORY.”

Naturally, the smokestack proprietor, or editor in this case, would be able to sell home-version smokestacks to allow people to blow red or blue smoke based on whether they believed that days smoke reflected a liberal or conservative bias, or purple smoke if they would like their name removed from the D-U-I report.

Windy days would be a challenge. Then again, when I was editor of a newspaper some guy stole the van with all the papers in it and that was that. So it goes. We’ll have more news tomorrow.

Sometimes it’s better to let 2,000-year-old rituals just be. As we watched the black smoke pour out of the Vatican chimney, the television analysts were left to comment on what might be happening inside based literally on nothing but smoke. Watching a TV reporter comment on something they don’t really understand is a regular occurrence. Some of them really are quite good at that. But when even your base of speculative information is lacking nuggets like “it’s cold,” or “some guy said this,” or “we have video,” the illusion unravels.

For instance, there was no way in St. Heck’s Basilica that an American was going to be elected pope. I’m not Catholic, but even a cursory glance at the political situation made this clear. Nevertheless, American reporters breathlessly reported that various U.S. cardinals were “front runners,” based by all appearances on the fact that they said so. They compared the church vote to Chicago-style political wheeling and dealing.

All due respect, but we’re dealing with an organization that was already several hundred years old when even devout Catholics admit that they elected a long string of “wicked popes.” And not “Boston wicked.” I’m pretty sure those cardinals have some kind of Jedi tricks that make arm twisting unnecessary, even Byzantine. And they know Byzantine because the church predates that as well.

This new pope seems like a pleasant fellow. Let’s run with that. Don’t argue with the white smoke.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts 91.7 KAXE’s Great Northern Radio Show on public stations.

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