While the College of Cardinals plans to meet Monday to set a date for the Vatican conclave to elect a new pope, the absence of a sitting pope was palpable in Vatican City Sunday. Vivian Lee filed the following report.
VATICAN CITY - On Sundays, St. Peter's Square in Vatican City is usually bustling with people. But on this Sunday, as one person put it, the square, "seemed to lack the excitement. It seemed empty."
It's not every Sunday that the Angelus, or blessing, is missing from the central balcony where it's delivered by the pope. But because there is no sitting pope, that Angelus did not come, and both tourists coming here for the first time as well as those who have come here before said the mood is decidedly different without that blessing and without a sitting pope.
Shop keepers have noticed, too.
"Usually, we have half an hour, one hour after Angelus, people come here, ask for something about the pope, and then, about lunch time, it's finished," said Susanna Ciucci, a souvenir shop worker. "Today, it's a little, little different because we don't see anything."
That doesn't mean excitement isn't building. Rev. Brandon Rolling traveled to Rome from the Kansas City area for a papal election he didn't think he'd see in his lifetime.
"In terms of being in Rome and potentially seeing the balcony open and a new holy father appear on the balcony, what a great opportunity," he said.
It's a chance that Alice-Marie Stone from Bethesda changed her travel plans for. A devout Catholic, she was headed to the Amalfi Coast, but added Rome and a few more days in case the decision on a new pope comes fast.
"We wanted to see that white smoke, the Fumata Bianca," she said
Even those who are not Catholic appreciate what's about to happen: the changing of the guard for an influential figure. Becky Harrell from the Outerbanks already planned her vacation in Italy, but the papal election added some sparkle.
"He's so significant worldwide," she said. "I'm not Catholic, but I'm interested in it."
Cardinals from around the world are set to meet Monday to begin discussing when to start the conclave to elect a new pope.