Life of Pius X - F. A. Forbes

The Papal Election

The news of the death of Leo XIII., on July 20th, 1908, came as a crushing blow to the whole Catholic world. The old man of ninety-four, whose wonderful intelligence had remained unimpaired until the very end of his life, had guided the bark of Peter with sure and unswerving hand during the twenty-five years of his pontificate. His blameless life, his lofty ideals, and his indomitable moral courage have been borne witness to by men who had small sympathy for the Catholic Church. "The original attitude of Leo XIII. towards the new social forces," wrote the Quarterly Review, "will make his pontificate a memorable epoch, not only, in the history of the Roman Church, but in that of all Christian countries. His personal conception of the duties of the Church towards the laboring classes was catholic in the broadest and best sense of the term. It was such a conception as befitted the chief Pastor of Christendom."

Yet this was only one side of the activity of the great statesman and Pope who had passed away. "Pray that God may send to His Church a Shepherd after His own heart," said Cardinal Sarto when he announced to his people at Venice the sad news of the Pope's death. Little in his humility did he think how that prayer was to be answered. Yet Leo XIII. himself not long before his death had said to an intimate friend, "If the Conclave chooses a Cardinal non-resident in Rome, it is Cardinal Sarto who will be elected."

The announcement of the death of Leo XIII. was sent out by the Camerlengo, Cardinal Oreglia, to all the Cardinals throughout the world, with the intimation that the Conclave for the election of his successor would be held on the 81st of July.

It was not until the 26th that Cardinal Sarto was able to set out for Rome. He laughed at the apprehensions of his sisters that he might not come back to them. His secretary, Don Giovanni Bressan, was busy putting together what was necessary for the journey.

"Where is Don Giovanni?" asked the Cardinal of his niece Amalia. "Go and tell him that a journey to Rome is not a journey to America."

"Get the Conclave over and come back quickly," said Amalia.

"Sooner or later,"" replied the Cardinal, "it does not matter. In the meantime you shall go to Possagno for a change of air and I will pick you up on my way back."

But the sisters were sad, and refused to be comforted.

The whole city turned out to greet the Patriarch as the gondola made its way to the station; from every balcony and bridge good wishes and farewells followed him. At the station there, was a regular ovation, poor and rich crowded round him to kiss his ring or catch one word from his lips. With tears in his eyes he thanked them for that demonstration of filial affection, and for the love they bore him.

"One more blessing! one more blessing!" pleaded the people, "Who knows if you will ever come back?"

"Alive or dead, I shall come back," was the answer.

"Take a return ticket, it will be cheaper," he had said to his secretary, Don Giovanni. But the return ticket was destined not to be used; the premonitions of the people were true. The train began to move, and from its window Cardinal Sarto looked his last on his beloved Venice; it was good-bye for ever. He had written to the Lombard College for rooms, and here he remained until the opening of the Conclave, paying and receiving visits. A Venetian lady who lived at Rome, having come to see him, expressed a polite wish that he would be the future Pope. Cardinal Sarto laughed. "It is sufficient honour," he replied, "that God should make use of such as I to elect the Pope." As he passed the Castle of 'St. Angelo one evening on the way to his modest lodging, a young Venetian captain who was on guard ordered his men to present arms as to the sovereign Pontiff. The Cardinal laughed at the boyish prank, and passed with a blessing.

A French Cardinal who did not know him spoke to him one day. "Your Eminence is probably an Italian Archbishop?" he asked.

"I do not speak French," replied Cardinal Sarto, in Latin; "I am the Patriarch of Venice."

"Ah I if you do not speak French," answered his questioner, "you will be not eligible for the Papacy."

"Thank God, no," was the answer; "I am not eligible for the Papacy."'

I think the election will be quickly over," said Cardinal Sarto to an Italian journalist who came to visit him in Rome. "The Pope will probably be elected at the second scrutiny."

"I venture to disagree with your Eminence," was the reply, "and on these grounds. I hope—for I think it is permissible—for a Cardinal who resides in his diocese. Not that the Cardinals of the Curia are wanting in breadth or in experience, but as a rule those Prelates who live in the provinces are in immediate contact with the people. They have a better chance of seeing things from the inside than those who occupy an official post in Rome, important and indispensable though these may be. But of necessity the non-resident Cardinals are less well known in Rome than those of the Curia, their candidature must therefore be slower and the election longer."

The election of the Pope is one of the most solemn functions of the Church, and is safeguarded by wise and stately regulations. On the death of the Pontiff the Cardinal Camerlengo, as representative of the Sacred College, assumes the charge of the papal household, notifying to all the Cardinals of the Church the death of the late Pope and the impending election. Every Cardinal has the right to vote in the Conclave, but he must be present in person to do so. Each one may take with him a secretary, who is generally a priest, and a servant. In the meanwhile a large portion of the Vatican palace has been walled off and divided into apartments or cells for the conclavists. Access to it can be had through one door alone, which is left open until the Conclave begins, when it is closed and barred from without by the Marshal of the Conclave, and from within by the Cardinal Camerlengo. All communication with the outside world is then at an end until the result of the election is announced.

The Conclave opens officially on the evening of the tenth day after the Pope's death. On the following morning the Cardinals hear Mass in the Pauline Chapel and receive Holy Communion from the hands of the Cardinal Dean, who solemnly adjures them to elect as Pope him whom they believe to be the most worthy.

Soon after Mass they assemble in the Sistine Chapel, where the actual voting takes place. The stall of each Cardinal has a canopy overhead and a small writing desk in front. The door is shut and bolted and the voting begins. Each Cardinal having written the name of his candidate on the paper provided, deposits it in a chalice on the altar, taking as he does so the required oath: "I call to witness the Lord Christ, who will be my Judge, that I am electing the one whom before God I think ought to be elected." The ballots are then counted and read aloud, and if no candidate has received the necessary number of votes, they are burnt in a little stove together with a handful of damp straw. As the chimney of this stove extends through a window of the chapel, the color of the smoke or "sfumata" can be clearly seen by those outside. Not until the election is made are the ballots burnt without the accompanying straw, when the clear white smoke is the first notification to the people that the Pope is elected. Voting takes place twice a day, morning 'and evening, until a majority of two-thirds of the votes has been attained.

The Veto is the alleged right of certain Catholic countries to object to the election of a Cardinal of whom they do not approve. It has been exercised rarely and has never been formally approved by the Church. Although Pius IX. had forbidden any interference by the secular power in a papal election, an attempt was made to exercise the Veto at the Conclave which resulted in the election of Pius X. After the third scrutiny, in which Cardinal Rampolla came first with twenty-nine votes, a Cardinal, who, although by birth a Galician Pole, was an Austrian subject, having accepted the mandate of the Austrian Government in the name of the Emperor, read a declaration excluding Cardinal Rampolla, without giving any particular reason for the exclusion.

The Cardinals protested against the interference, and the votes in Cardinal Rampolla's favor were found to have increased still further in the evening scrutiny. But Cardinal Sarto's had been mounting steadily from the beginning and continued to do so until they reached the number of fifty.'

At five o'clock on the 81st of July the Cardinals, sixty-four in all, assembled at the Vatican. At nightfall the last door was closed and bricked up; the Conclave had begun. At the first scrutiny Cardinal Rampolla had twenty-four votes, Cardinal Gotti seven, and Cardinal Sarto five. There was nothing alarming in this; but when, at the second scrutiny, the votes in favor of the Patriarch of Venice had doubled, and at the third doubled again, it was another matter, and his anguish was obvious to all. With trembling voice and tears in his eyes, he spoke to the Cardinals, begging them to give up all thought of him. "I am unworthy, I am incapable," he pleaded, "forget me."

"It was that very adjuration, his grief, his profound humility and wisdom," said Cardinal Gibbons, "that made us think of him all the more; we learnt to know him from his words as we could never have known him by hearsay." The voting continued. In the evening of the second day Cardinal Sarto, who at the last scrutiny had obtained twenty-four votes, passed several hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, exposed in the Pauline Chapel. On returning to his room he found several of his colleagues who had come to beg him not to refuse the burden if God should call upon him to bear it. "I was\ one of those who went to visit him in his cell in the evening, to try to induce him to accept," said the American Cardinal. "Those who had gone before had shaken his resistance, so that I almost hoped he would resign himself to what seemed to be inevitable." On the third day the votes for Cardinal Sarto went on increasing, until on the morning of the fourth day fifty out of the sixty-two were in his favor, eight more than the forty-two required for a valid election.

They asked him if he would accept, but he had already accepted in his heart. The sacrifice had been made in the silent hours of the night. "I accept," he said, with tears, "for I see in the manifestation of your wills the Will of God."

"What name will you take?" they asked him. "Pius X.," he replied:

Pale and trembling, he was clothed in the white Pontifical vestments; the official ring was placed on his finger, and he was led to the Throne to receive the obedience of the Cardinals. The ceremonies ended, the Pope returned to his cell, where he remained for long in prayer before the Crucifix. The faithful servant who had followed him from Venice begged him several times in vain to take some nourishment. At last he rose, and, turning to his secretary, Monsignor Bressan with something of his old serenity: "Come," he said, "it is the Will of God."

The news was telegraphed to his sisters at Venice. "We knew it," they said weeping, "we felt that some terrible sorrow had befallen us; our hearts were breaking and we kept saying to each other, 'Oh, if they would only make the Cardinal of Prague Pope, and free us from this terror! He is young. Why must they take our brother? We shall never see him again. We feel his tears in our hearts!'"

Immediately after his election, when leaving the balcony from which he had given his first blessing inside St. Peter's, Pius X. expressed his wish to go and visit Cardinal Herera y Espinosa, Bishop of Valencia, an old man eighty years of age who was lying sick in his cell. He had been taken ill a few days before, had received the last Sacraments, and was at the point of death. Hastening to the bedside of the dying man, the Pope blessed him, and at his blessing the old Cardinal sat up as if inspired with new life. Three days later the man for whom the doctors had declared there was no hope was well enough to get up. He returned soon after to Spain, cured, as he himself always declared, by the blessing of the Holy Father.

The news of the election was received with joy in Italy. Outside of that country Pius X. was little known. "What kind of a Pope will he be?" was the question on many lips. The world had not long to wait for the answer. Two months had scarcely passed before his first Encyclical rang like a clarion call throughout the Catholic world.

"It matters not to tell with what tears and with what earnest prayers we have sought to thrust from us this appalling burden of the Pontifical office," he begins, echoing the lament of St. Anselm on his election to the episcopate. "We could not be other than disturbed at being appointed the successor of one who, after having most wisely ruled the Church for wellnigh six-and-twenty years, showed such power of genius and so shone with the splendor of all the virtues that even adversaries were constrained to admire him."

Going straight to the heart of the world's unrest, the Pope as a skilful physician lays bare the cause of the disease—"the falling away from and forsaking God, than which there is nothing more nearly allied to perdition."

"As, borne up by God's might, we set our hand to the work of withstanding this great evil, we proclaim that in bearing the Pontifical office this is our one purpose, 'to restore all things in Christ, so that Christ may be all in all."

Beautiful words, which embody the teaching and the work of a lifetime spent in God's service. No empty ideal either, but the one that Giuseppe Sarto had set steadfastly before himself from the very day of his consecration to the priesthood, and to which he had devoted himself strenuously ever since.

In a few words he foresaw the hostile judgments that were to be expected from certain quarters on every action of the Head of the Catholic Church.

"There will be some, assuredly, who, measuring divine things by those that are human, will strive to penetrate the purpose of our mind and wrest it to earthly ends and the aims of parties. In order to cut off this vain hope of theirs, we affirm with every asseveration, that in the midst of human society we desire to be nothing, and by the help of God we will be nothing but the minister of God whose authority we bear. The cause of God is our cause to which we are determined to devote all our strength and our life itself. Therefore, if any ask of us a symbol to show forth the purpose of our mind, we shall ever give this one alone—' to restore all things in Christ.' "

"To this, therefore," he continues later, speaking of the evils that follow on the forsaking of God, "must we direct all our efforts, to bring the race of men under the dominion of Christ; when once this is done, it will have already returned to God Himself."

"How many are there," he laments, "that hate Christ and abhor the Church and the Gospel by ignorance rather than by perversity of mind, of whom you may rightly say that 'they blaspheme whatever things they know not '; and this is to be found not only in the people or the common multitude, but in the cultured and even in those who enjoy no mean learning. It is not to be allowed that faith is quenched by the growth of science, but it is more truly quenched by the want of knowledge."

Speaking of those who are hostile to the Church, "Why may we not hope," he says, "that the flame of Christian charity will dissipate the darkness, and bring them 'the light and peace of God.' Charity is never wearied by waiting."

"A 'Shepherd of souls ' was the verdict of the Catholic world on reading the Encyclical. 'Gentle and strong ' was the judgment of a well-known American Bishop. But there was another side to the character of the Pope which later on became evident. 'Pius X.,' wrote one who had known him intimately at Venice, 'is a man of keen intelligence and of great culture, thoroughly well up in the philosophy, literature, and social movements of the times.'"

But first and foremost a Shepherd of souls. The world was right in its judgment.

One of the first actions of the new Pope was to order the distribution of four thousand pounds amongst the poor of Rome, and half the amount amongst the poor of Venice. "Is it not rather a large sum?" suggested the Almoner respectfully, "considering the actual state of things?"

"Where is your trust in God's Providence?" asked the Holy Father; and the money was given.

He could no longer go to his beloved poor, but the order was given that they should come to him. Sunday after Sunday they were gathered, parish by parish, in the courts of the Vatican to hear from the lips of the Pope himself a simple sermon on the Gospel of the day. "Love God, and lead good Christian lives," such was the burden of his teaching; but there was more teaching still in the warm welcome that awaited them, in the tender charity that shone forth in every word and movement of the Holy Father. "Sweet Christ on earth," was the title St. Catherine of Siena loved to give to the successor of St. Peter. Surely the name must have often come to the lips of those whose privilege it was to be much in the presence of Pius X.