I have always been fascinated by the selection of the Pope by the Roman Catholic Church. And certainly over the last two weeks, it has been interesting to watch and listen as clergy and lay persons in the media have been speculating about how the selection would be made.

In spite of our religious differences, the selection of the Pope to preside over 1.2 billion Catholics is of keen interest to the world as a world leader and influencer emerges from a group of Cardinals, either well known or out of obscurity.

And yet, there is a lot known about a future Pope before one gets elected.  He is, of course, a male, unmarried, celibate (or supposed to be) who has dedicated his whole life to the ministry.  Since the Vatican is located in Rome, there is always a heavy influence of the Italians on the selection of Pope, though the past two Popes have been Polish and German respectively.

The selection of the Pope is rich in tradition and pageantry to some extent, though the real work of selection was behind closed doors, out of the public view.  One can certainly quibble with the whole authority issue and the basis for which a Pope is even a legitimate position in God’s true Church. But, again, you have to marvel at the whole process.

Over the past two weeks, the media has been speculating on the likely candidates and the so-called “politics” surrounding the election. I suppose because it appears to be an election process, we tend to equate it with the sometimes hideous spectacle we call elections here in the US. And I suppose, one would be naïve not to assume there is some heavy politics involved with the selection of a new Pope.

But I have to admit I was rather struck by a comment made by one of the clergy I listened to on CNN the other day as the votes started and the black smoke rose from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel. He said that the Cardinals are praying not to decide who to vote for, but to receive revelation by the Holy Spirit on who God wants as the next Pope.  As a Latter-day Saint, I can certainly relate to that.

So, now we know that the new Pope, selected on the fifth vote, is Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina. He is the first non-European Pope in 1200 years, the first Jesuit, the first from the Americas and the first to take the name Francis.  He certainly has his work cut out for him.

We can contrast the selection of the Pope with the selection of a new Prophet for the LDS Church and while they are very different, they are following their own tradition. Both are quite orderly and invoke the mind and will of the Lord in the selection.  While the current LDS tradition is an automatic promotion of the Senior Apostle to the position of Prophet and President of the Church, perhaps the resignation of Pope Benedict will cause some thought processes with the leadership of the LDS Church as to the continuation of that tradition. We will see. Change comes slowly in the Church.

I happened to be in St. Peter’s Square in Rome the week after Pope Benedict’s selection as Pope and witnessed his first Sunday morning appearance from the window of the Papal residence.  The Square was packed as it was the other night and it was an electrifying scene. I followed the crowds down into the catacombs to file passed the new tomb of John Paul II, the most beloved Pope of the past 50 years.

You cannot help but feel something in that place so steeped in history and grandeur. I am sure you all join me in extending our own best wishes and prayers for the new head of the Catholic Church. After all, some of my best friends and family are Catholic.