April 19, 2005 | 9:55 p.m. ET

Day 2: Pope Benedict XVI (David Shuster)

Shuster's Baghdad Diary

ROME, ITALY— It took two days and a total of four ballots for the College of the Cardinals to elect Joseph Ratzinger as supreme Pontiff.  But when the moment came, it was one of the most dramatic spectacles I've ever seen.

At approximately 5:45 p.m. Rome time Tuesday evening, I was sitting in the NBC workspace near St. Peter's Square when one of my colleagues shouted, "We've got smoke, we've got smoke."  A group of us immediately crowded around a television monitor showing the "chimney camera" view of the Sistine Chapel to see if we could tell what color the smoke was.  And the radios and TV signals from St. Peter's Square suddenly came to life. Our crews, correspondents, and producers were reporting the "roars" from the crowd. Everybody was straining to listen for the bells, the official confirmation of a new Pope.

The minutes dragged on and on. To many of us, the smoke seemed gray, just like the first few minutes last night. But the puffs certainly didn't seem to be thickening and turning black like the previous emissions. At around 5:50 p.m., Vatican Radio reported that the smoke was black and thus there was no pope.  But yesterday, the same Vatican radio had reported white smoke on the first ballot. Making matters even more interesting, everybody had expected smoke around 7:30 p.m. or 8 p.m. (based on the amount of time it takes for the cardinals to go through two ballots.)   So, something was definitely happening... and the crowd seemed to be sensing that. I sprinted to our rooftop position to get a look at the throngs of people running into St. Peter's Square and they seemed to be charging in by the hundreds.  At approximately 6 p.m., bells went off, prompting a deafening roar like the kind you would hear at a football game following a dramatic touchdown.  The problem was, these weren't the right bells— they were the ones that chime at the top of every hour. Still, the anticipation was building: You could hear people singing, clapping, and cheering.  And finally, at around 6:04 p.m., the large bell on the front of St. Peter's Basilica started to rock back and forth... and the crowd, now in the tens of the thousands, seemed to go nuts.  It was a roar and an excitement unlike anything I've ever witnessed. The large bell, and several smaller ones started ringing... and everywhere you looked, people were cheering. 

Video: Live from St. Peter's By 6:30 p.m., St. Peter's Square was absolutely jammed. Tens of thousands of people filled the plaza, many were waving flags, singing, hugging one another, and shouting in a dozen different languages, "We have a pope, we have a pope."  Others chanted, "The pope is one of us ..."

At around 6:45 p.m., the doors to the main balcony on St. Peter's Basillica opened... prompting another deafening roar.  And a few minutes later, the senior cardinal deacon emerged with an assistant carrying a microphone, and made the dramatic announcement, "We have a Pope.... Cardinal Ratzinger."

Pope Benedict XVI then walked out. There were more roars... and he offered brief remarks. 

For several hours that followed, tens of thousands of students stayed in St. Peter's Square.  They sang soccer chants, waved flags, and sat on the ground yelling in unison for the Pope to "Come join us."  Why do I know this?  Because the the German student I was standing next to also spoke Italian... and nearly perfect English. 

The entire atmosphere was intoxicating. The mood of the crowd was jubilant and optimistic.  And yet many of the students said their energy was fueled simply by the fact they had witnessed history— the first conclave and emergence of a new pope in 26 years. A few students said they were "pleased" with the strict doctrine they could expect from the new pope. And a few others described the opportunity to see any pope as "magical."  But there seemed to be a dose of reality that for this one evening, the students wanted to push aside.  For this one evening, they didn't want to think about the problems around the world or the disconnect they may feel with the Vatican on issues like birth control, the spread of AIDS in Africa, or even the sex abuse scandal in the United States.  Instead, this was simply a night to take in history... and enjoy the fact that religion, at its best, stands for peace and joy.  And at its worst?  Well, as one student suggested, "That's not something to think about tonight."

April 19, 2005 | 3:39 p.m. ET

Election of a new pope (Chris Matthews)

In all history, the best public relations thing I have ever heard of is this “white smoke-black smoke” thing. Talk about drama and talk about controlling the event…

It's not the networks calling the results, not Peter Jennings or Brian Williams, or one of us… it's one of cardinals. That's certainly dramatic.

I think this new pope, just on a very cosmetic level, is amazing. He's 78 years old. I remembered him being talked about when we studied Vatican II back at the Holy Cross in the 60s. Ratzinger was a major figure. And here he is now radiant, looking strong, solid... what a leader he looks like.

It first struck me when we covered the funeral ceremony two Fridays ago: He gave a wonderful homily and how the crowd reacted to it. I sensed a resonance then between him as the friend of the late pope, and the crowd, loving of the pope. There was a togetherness there. So maybe his election isn't a surprise.  It didn't take him long to get past the 77 he needed to win.

The other thing that struck me— and this is not a knock— but a parallel: Remember when our President George W. Bush was looking for a vice-president? He interviewed to all these young men and women. In the end, he came back to Dick Cheney, the man he had put in charge of  the search committee.  It seems to me the cardinals must have looked around the world, and they stopped and realized that they had a great guy right here… the Dean of the College Of Cardinals, and he's perfect for the job.

There's a lot of other factors that led to his election, I'm sure. There are many Europeans in the College of Cardinals. The conservatives won, and there's no surprise there.

But what's also interesting is that Ratzinger picked the name Benedict. The last pope Benedict was Pontiff during World War I. And there hasn't been a German pope in hundreds of years. And here he is, the new Pontiff saying, "I want to have the as name as a pope who tried to bring peace in World War I... before any of the hell of the 20th century, when the world could have been a more peaceful place." So that his name which connotes “peacemaker” is so interesting.

E-mail Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

April 18, 2005 | 4:28 p.m. ET

Vatican diary, day 1: Amazing scenes at the Vatican(David Shuster)

Shuster's Baghdad Diary
ROME, ITALY— Bonjourno! It's been quite a first day here at the Vatican.  Just after 8 p.m. local time this evening, with the sky getting dark, something started coming out of the chimney above the Sistine Chapel.  On the first day of the conclave, the cardinals have the option of doing a ballot or not... and it was so late in the day, many of us (and many of the tourists in St. Peter's Square)  thought they had chosen not to do a ballot.  Then, the smoke started coming out... and because of the darkness of the sky, it was impossible to tell at first what color the smoke was. Could the late smoke be a sign that the college of cardinals had voted and found a pope on the first ballot?  Some tourists thought so... they cheered wildly.  And our colleagues at the Telemundo network reported that dozens of people in the crowd were shouting "blanco, blanco, blanco" (white, white white). The smoke started to get darker... and within minutes, the Vatican confirmed that the cardinals ended the day the way nearly everybody had expected, with a first ballot that produced no pope. For a few minutes though, it was an amazing scene as broadcasters and journalists of every stripe wondered what exactly was happening...

This is the first time I've ever been to Rome (with the exception of changing planes at the airport.)  The city is as beautiful, charming, and crowded as everybody says.  The roads in the city are very narrow... and the traffic everywhere is nasty.  Still, it gives you an opportunity to look down all of the cobblestone streets and beautiful piazzas.  That would be "piazza"  (as in plaza) not "pizza."  On the way in yesterday, we drove past the Colliseum... and it is as magnificent and interesting in person  as it looks in books and post cards.  I was disappointed, however, to see that the  Coliseum is surrounded by busy roads and apartments/office buildings.  For some reason, I had anticipated a little more separation between the ancient Romans and the 21st century ones.  In any case, we are here to cover the Vatican... and that part of the city is really amazing. Our camera position is on top of a building on a hill overlooking St. Peter's square... and the entire scene is breathtaking.  St. Peter's Basillica is simply spectacular.  And I promise to take a tour of the inside before the week ends.

The word "conclave" comes from the two latin words meaning "with key," referring to the custom that cardinals are locked up for the duration of the balloting. It wasn't always like that, but several hundred years ago, the church got tired of waiting for the Cardinals... and decided to lock them up and start cutting down on their food rations in order to speed things up.  (They no longer cut down on their food... and for this conclave, the Cardinals are staying in a hotel-like dormitory on the grounds of the Vatican that was built for occasions like these.)

Video: Conclave In any case, the election process during the conclave is intriguing... though the ballot rounds inside the Sistine chapel, according to cardinals who participated in 1978, would seem "boring" to observers.  Each ballot round, with all of the counting and recounting, takes up to two hours.  And there are no discussions about issues or preferences except during the breaks. In other words, the strolls around the Vatican grounds, the meals, or even the mini-bus ride each morning and each night may be where the intriguing exchanges of ideas and preferences take place.  (The media, of course, will see none of it...)

As for the smoke, starting tomorrow...  the ballots and notes are burned at the end of every two ballot sessions (once in the morning and once in the evening.)  But, if a ballot produces a pope (2/3 of the votes or 77 out of 115) the ballots and notes are burned immediately and chemicals are added to turn the smoke white instead of black.

By all accounts, the Catholic Church is at something of a crossroads . There are those who want the church to "modernize" and be open to issuels like approving condom use in Africa to stop the spread of AIDS. Then, there are those who say say the Church should stay true to is strict doctrinal path followed for the past 28 years by Pope John Paul the second.  It's an intriguing time for Catholics and for anybody who is intrigued by the emergence of what will be, one way or the other, a significant player on the world stage. 

I'll be blogging all week... and we will try to do a webcast on Wednesday.  Send your questions to: DShuster@msnbc.com.

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