VENICE, Fla. - The heavy wooden door to the Sistine Chapel has been closed and locked, signaling the start of the conclave to elect a new pope.
The resignation of Benedict the 16th has thrown the church into turmoil and exposed deep divisions among cardinals grappling with whether to pick a manager who can clean up the Vatican bureaucracy or a pastor who can inspire Catholics at a time of crisis.
The world is watching and waiting, and that includes many Catholics right here on the Suncoast. Halfway across the world here at home at places like Epiphany Cathedral, it's something on many minds.
There was talk of a looming decision Tuesday at places like St. Mary Star of the Sea Church on Longboat Key. Monsignor Gerard Finegan has served under four popes, and ready for his fifth. "We are awaiting the pope and praying for spirit to guide these cardinals and making the best choice for the leader of our people."
The answer is awaited by those in the church and many non-Catholics. "The very fact that they are interested is saying something about how they look upon the papacy and on the church. They recognize that the church is very powerful and can have a tremendous influence."
It's also on the mind of Catholics Reggie and Tom Hisey. "We are praying for the cardinals to make the correct decision."
They are praying and waiting for the next person who overnight will become the face of the largest religious organization in the world. "It is critical that we can find someone who can reach out to both the churched and un-churched so they can find answers in their lives right now," says Tom Hisey.
Monsignor Finegan says he has no idea who might make the best pope. He say whoever is elected will likely not make any radical changes to church traditions. He prefers to keep it simple. “That he is aware of God’s love and forgiveness. That it's reflected in his talks. That it's reflected in lifting people up. I would be happy with that."
Now even though he has been through previous popes, the monsignor says this time is different. Usually there is a long morning period, because the previous pope has died. This is the first time in 600 years one has stepped down.