Stormy Outside, Pre-Conclave Mass Calls For Unity And "Discernment"



VATICAN CITY - In a solemn ceremony, 115 cardinal-electors gathered in Rome to choose the new Pope celebrated the traditional pre-conclave mass on Tuesday morning just hours before entering the Sistine Chapel to cast their first ballots for the next pontiff.

The surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the first in more than six centuries, adds additional intrigue to this conclave, as cardinals must find amongst themselves a new leader to both reform Vatican management and rekindle the faith of the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.

Footage of the pre-conclave mass - Source: BBC News

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who at 85 is too old to vote in the conclave, gave the homily in his role of Dean of the College of Cardinals that called for unity in choosing and following the successor of Benedict.

The AP reported one of the offertory prayers during the Mass read: “Let us pray for the cardinals who are to elect the Roman pontiff...May the Lord fill them with his Holy Spirit with understanding and good counsel, wisdom and discernment.”

Thousands of pilgrims, tourists and journalists waited in line to get inside St. Peter's Basilica for the ceremony.

#conclave Waiting for The Mass pro eligendo Pontifice, people in St. Peter Square…

— Andrea Tornielli (@Tornielli) March 12, 2013

An understated media presence at the Vatican #nbcpope @ Piazza San Pietro

— Alastair Jamieson (@alastairjam) March 12, 2013

The “Mass Pro Eligendo Pontifice” began at 10 a.m. local time with Roman Catholic cardinals preparing to choose a new pope.

March of the Cardinals into San Pietro mass before conclave start. One will be pope this week.…

— Eric Reguly (@ereguly) March 12, 2013

"Señor Nuestro, Dános un Pastor Santo que ilumine a tu pueblo" #InicioCónclave…

— (@Catholic_Net) March 12, 2013

Lord, give us a Holy Pastor to enlighten Your people

Although a large number of worshippers had congregated outside the basilica from early morning -- tickets to the mass being allocated on a first-come, first-served basis -- St. Peter’s Square was soon deserted as blue sky gave way to hail, heavy rain and thunder.

Thunder and lightning in St Peter's Square as the Mass continues in the Basilica #conclave2013 @bbcradiowales…

— AlunThomas (@alunth) March 12, 2013

Hail stone pounds Rome as Conclave mass goes on. One lady says "maybe its god saying he doesn't like first choice"…

— Michelle Clifford (@skynewsmichelle) March 12, 2013

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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