Tag Archives: Conclave

Running the race … or how to run a marathon on a whim

17 Apr

by Patrick Novecosky

ROME (April 17, 2013) — It’s been a month and my knees still hurt, but that’s the price you pay for making a spur-of-the-moment decision to run your first full marathon. But like the saying goes, “When in Rome…”

Fresh off my first two half-marathons (Naples on Jan. 20 and Fort Myers on March. 3), I was on my way to Rome for the papal conclave. Pope Benedict XVI had stunned the world on Feb. 11, announcing that he would step down officially on Feb. 28. After consulting with my wife and my boss (in that order), I was given the green light to go to Rome for the conclave. I blogged extensively from Rome (Report 1, Report 2, Report 3, Report 4) and did several radio and television interviews from the Vatican.

On the plane from Atlanta to Rome, I met Deacon Bill Jacobs and his wife Toni from the Diocese of Knoxville. We got around to discussing the conclave and Bill mentioned that the Rome marathon — which would be taking place in six days — may have to alter its route around the Vatican because of the conclave and the high traffic comes with it. “Well,” says I, “that’s funny because only two weeks ago I ran a half marathon. I’ve always wanted to run a complete marathon.” George W. Bush had run a marathon, and so had Oprah Winfrey. And if Oprah could run 26.2 miles, then by heck so could I!

12,000 runners competed in the 2013 Maratona di Roma.

More than 14,000 runners competed in the 2013 Maratona di Roma.

I had brought my running gear to Rome with the intention to run around the Vatican walls. The circumference of the entire city state is a mere 3.2 km (2 miles). It’s a short jog considering I was averaging more than 4 miles per run and I was staying a stone’s throw from the Vatican walls. However, the first few days in Rome were rainy and frigid, barely edging into the 50s Fahrenheit or double digits in Celsius.

I had planned on waiting for a warmer day to run, but on my second day in Rome, I struck up a conversation with two young ladies from Ireland. They were in Rome not for the conclave, but for the marathon. “Hmmm,” I mused. “Since I am in shape, in Rome, with my running clothes… perhaps I should sign up!” Given that it was happening on St. Patrick’s Day, this was an easy decision. After all, my only plans for the day were to go to Mass and to take in Pope Francis‘ first Angelus.

Decision time

logo_maratona-romaI prayed, consulted my marathon-running friends back home via Facebook, did a little research of my own, and decided to go for it. Since I wasn’t a member of an official running club, I had to get a letter from my doctor saying I was OK to run. A quick Skype call took care of that problem and her letter came e-mail and fax. On Friday afternoon, I took the metro to the Marathon Village in the Palazzo dei Congressi in the south end of Rome and plunked down my €80. I was in… but I didn’t know what I was in for other than pain and 42.195 km/26.2 miles.

My next stop was a big pasta dinner with former Ann Arborite, Fr. Mark Thelen, LC. We were long-time Facebook friends and despite having lived in the same city for a short time, never met in person. Among our first topics of conversation … running. I told him I had just signed up for the marathon only to discover that he was also going to be among the 12,000 strong running on Sunday. The funny thing is that when I arrived at the Colosseum to start the race, he was among the first people I bumped into! I got a priestly blessing from one of his colleagues to boot!

Even the "Pope" ran the marathon. I think he was an anti-Pope because an hour into the race I saw him relieving himself in a bush.

Even the “Pope” ran the marathon. I think he was an anti-Pope because an hour into the race I saw him relieve himself in a bush.

Race day

The race began at 9 am, which is a late start. Most races start at 7 am. I was grateful for the extra few hours’ sleep because it took an hour to navigate the metro system. The Colosseum station was out of order, so I had to walk an extra 10 blocks to the Start line. Navigating the immense crowd wasn’t a problem, but the lines for the porta potties was. I waited 10 minutes for my turn.

I heard the gun go off shortly after 9 am, but I was probably 10,000-deep in the crowd. I didn’t get to the Start line until about 9:06 am. Thankfully, the chip timing device embedded in the race number I wore tracked the “gun time” and the “real time,” which is the time from the Start line to the Finish line.

My marathon-experienced friends advised me to “take it easy and not push myself for the first 20 miles or so.” Easy for them to say! My longest run prior to this had only been 13.1 miles! However, it was sound advice. The weather was a little chilly for Rome in March — about 44 Fahrenheit or 7 Celsius, but with my tunes in my ears and my Runkeeper app keeping me on pace, it felt good to be running in my favorite city in the world. I don’t remember the first song as I crossed the Start line, but I’ll never forget rounding the corner to pass the Colosseum with “Eye of the Tiger” in my ears!

Marathon1Marathon organizers ensured that most of Rome’s top sites were along the route (click here for a map of the entire route). Only 6 km from the Colosseum, the first landmark along the route was the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside The Walls where the mortal remains of the great evangelist reside.  More important to runners, however, are the water/Gatorade stops. Historic sites and classic architecture are wonderful, but no one can run a marathon without hydration and food!

One interesting aspect of this race was that every 5 km or so, they had a sponge station. Volunteers would had runners a water-soaked sponge to wipe off their sweat. Interesting concept. I resisted until near the end, but ended up enjoying it! It was fun running through some of the “sponge stops” and tromping over the hundreds of hand-sized sponges dropped by previous runners.

My lone criticism of the well-organized event was that the toilets and hydration stations were a little too far apart. I ended up carrying a water bottle for about two-thirds of the race. OK. Truth be told I have a second criticism. Just as Deacon Bill had predicted, the race was rerouted away from the Vatican because of the conclave. Since it was the day of Pope Francis’ first Angelus, it was probably a good thing. My friends told me that St. Peter’s Square was absolutely packed that day.

A Roman centurion (or reasonable facsimile) crosses the finish line during the 19th annual Rome marathon on March 17, 2013.

A Roman centurion (or reasonable facsimile) crosses the finish line during the 19th annual Rome marathon on March 17, 2013.

The race continued from St. Paul Outside the Walls north along the Tiber, through Trastevere, past Castel Sant’Angelo, reaching the half-way point near Santa Maria della Vittoria, the minor basilica opened in 1620. My goal for the entire marathon was 5 hours, since I had run my best half marathon time of 2h 8m just two weeks earlier. When I realized my half-marathon time in Rome was 2h 38m, I knew 5 hours was out of the question.

The route continued north and crossed the Tiber again to the Piazza delle Muse before turning south. When I was near the Castel Sant’Angelo, an American woman along the route noticed my Detroit Tigers’ t-shirt and shouted, “Go Detroit!” I met Canadians, Brits and several Americans during the race, many of them from the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, 140 miles south of Rome.

The second half

The route back to the Colosseum was far more interesting. They had saved the best sites for the last. However, I was not at my best. The first half of the race was a relative breeze, but 30 km (18 miles) in, I started cramping up a bit. I stopped every couple of miles to stretch. I was bound and determined to finish. I was not about to quit or worse, be carried away on a stretcher.

The last 8 km of the route passed through the Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, Spanish Steps, Piazza Trevi, and the famous Trevi Fountain before the final bit of torture called El Último Kilómetro — the final/ultimate kilometer — which is the final 1,000 meters uphill to the Finish line.  Just after I passed the Trevi (around 39 km), I tripped on an upturned cobblestone. Thankfully, less than half of the race was over these ancient blocks of rock, which are far more difficult to run on than pavement. The stone that tripped me was not lying flat as it should, but was turned on its side and still in its hole. I didn’t see it, but my foot caught it as I passed. By God’s grace, I caught myself rather than crashing to the street. I’m not sure I would have been able to finish if I had fallen. Ever since the 18-km mark or so, the back of my right knee and the top of my left foot were giving me cause for pain. They still do.


A few steps from the finish line on the torturous Último Kilómetro

As the finish line drew near, every step was more difficult than the last. My muscles simply would not do what I wanted them to do. They felt like massive lead blocks as I alternated between a quick walk and a light jog. I probably only lifted my foot an inch off the pavement for each step, but I did it! My official/real time was 5h 30m 18s. Not bad for a first marathon when I hadn’t trained for it.

savedpicture-2013319215313At the finish line, a volunteer handed me my medal (a beautifully crafted souvenir) and another wrapped me in a shiny metallic emergency blanket. I was warm within seconds! Then I got in line for a short rub-down — essential to post-race survival for marathoners. From there, I staggered to the Metro.

Last on my list for the day: Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, a full massage, then my first full meal of the day! Now I know know what St. Paul meant when he said, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me” (2 Tim 4:7-8). No crown for me, but the medal is nice!

This year I added two new bumper stickers to my car.

This year I added two new bumper stickers to my car.

Despite the pain, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I might just start shopping for flights to Rome already!

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor of this blog. He ran his first full marathon in Rome on March 17, 2013. Officials report that 14,183 athletes entered the race (11,871 men, 2,312 women). Novecosky came in 10,123th place.

Our man in the Vatican: The SiriusXM interviews

23 Mar
Steve Peroutka

Steve Peroutka

MARCH 23, 2013 (VATICAN CITY) – Patrick Novecosky, editor of this blog, was a guest on SiriusXM’s Family Talk Channel for two consecutive weeks. Steve Peroutka, president of National Pro-Life Radio and host of Sirius XM’s Face the Truth Coast 2 Coast, interviewed Patrick during his March 16 and March 23 programs.

On the first program, broadcast March 16, Patrick talked about being part of history during the election the dynamic new Roman Pontiff — Pope Francis — the former Buenos Aires Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the 266th successor of St. Peter. The Argentinian cardinal took the name Pope Francis.

On the second program, they spoke about Patrick’s last-minute decision to run in the 19th Rome Marathon. Other topics of conversation: Pope Francis, his audience with journalists, and how John Paul I set the stage for a new era of the papacy.

FamilyTalkListen to the March 16 program by clicking here.

Listen to the March 23 program by clicking here.

Francis, pope to the poor

23 Mar

by Patrick Novecosky

MARCH 23, 2013 (VATICAN CITY)Although his pontificate is not even two weeks old, it’s clear that Pope Francis does things differently. Before he even stepped out onto the loggia on March 13 as the 266th successor of St. Peter, he eschewed the gold pectoral cross reserved for the newly elected pope and instead opted to wear his own simple dark metallic cross depicting the Holy Spirit descending upon the shepherd returning with a lost sheep.

Pope Francis pays his hotel bill on the first day of his pontificate

Pope Francis pays his hotel bill on the first day of his pontificate

On his first day as pontiff, Pope Francis visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome with a small security escort before returning to the hotel where he had stayed prior to the conclave. He cleared out his room, carried his own suitcase, and then paid the bill himself.

A few days later, just before celebrating Sunday Mass at the tiny parish church of Santa Anna inside the Vatican, the new Pope stepped onto the sidewalk to greet passersby, astonishing pilgrims making their way to St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis greets people after celebrating mass at St. Anne's Parish within the Vatican March 17. The new pope greeted every person leaving the small church and then walked over to meet people waiting around St. Anne's Gate. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets people after celebrating Mass at St. Anne’s Parish within the Vatican March 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A new pope

As a journalist and a Catholic, I was blessed to be in Rome during the conclave and the first days of Francis’ pontificate. I arrived in Rome on March 12 — about 12 hours before the first black smoke issued from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel on the first day of the conclave.

While the square was perhaps half-full on that cold and rainy night with temps dipping into the 30s, it was a different story 24 hours later. It was still cold, but nearly 150,000 had packed the square, clutching umbrellas as the rain occasionally turned to flurries.

My view of St. Peter's Square on March 13

My view of St. Peter’s Square on March 13

When the curtains on the basilica’s loggia opened — more than an hour after the white smoke appeared — I was shivering atop the colonnade waiting for the new pope. A Spanish journalist next to me speculated that Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola had been elected because his Twitter account had been removed. However, a couple of minutes before the new pope appeared, she told me his name was “Bergoglio from Argentina.” As it turns out, she was right. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was the new Holy Father — now named Pope Francis. He was installed on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church.

Atop the colonnade of St. Peter's Square awaiting the new pope

Atop the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square awaiting the new pope

The inspiration

Like his famous namesake — St. Francis of Assisi — the new pope has a heart for the poor. As cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, he left the opulent bishop’s residence to live in a small apartment with a retired bishop. He did his own cooking and rode the bus to his office. Being pope hasn’t changed him. After his election, he rode on a bus with the cardinals back to the residence in the Vatican Gardens where they were staying during the conclave.

During his March 16 audience with journalists where he became known as the “Hugging Pope,” Francis expressed a desire to refocus on the poor. Regarding the inspiration for his new name, he explained that late in the voting during the conclave, he was sitting next to his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy.

“When things were getting a little ‘dangerous,’ he comforted me,” the Pope told journalists. “And then, when the votes reached the two-thirds, there was the usual applause because the pope had been elected. He hugged me and said: ‘Do not forget the poor.’ And that word stuck here [tapping his forehead]; the poor, the poor.

“Then, immediately in relation to the poor I thought of Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and safeguards creation. In this moment when our relationship with creation is not so good — right? — he is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!”

In Paul VI Hall during the audience for journalists with Pope Francis on March 16

In Paul VI Hall during the audience for journalists with Pope Francis on March 16

Pope Francis has surprised almost everyone with his charm, his simplicity and his ability to communicate the truths of the faith in word and action. I have no doubt that we can expect much of the same during his pontificate. This man, who has the humility of Benedict XVI and the charm and ease of John Paul II, will do things differently. And that’s a good thing.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor of Legatus magazine and this blog. A modified version of this article appeared in the March 17 edition of the Prairie Messenger.

Secrets of the papal conclave: WNAV interviews

14 Mar

wnav vert logo on blueMARCH 14, 2013 (VATICAN CITY) –Patrick Novecosky, editor of this blog, was acting as the Vatican correspondent for 1430 WNAV Radio in Annapolis, Maryland, this week.

On Tuesday, March 12, Patrick spoke to WNAV news director Bill Lusby about the conclave and what to expect when the cardinals, now in their second day of voting, choose a new pope. Patrick talked about how the cardinals arrive at their decision and why the cardinals work in secret.

On the following day, March 13, he talked to Bill about the cardinals’ second day of balloting. They spoke just hours before the cardinals chose Buenos Aires Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the 266th successor of St. Peter. The Argentinian cardinal took the name Pope Francis.

During the third report, March 14, they spoke about the new pope and his dynamic personality. Patrick was 80 yards from the Pope when he presented himself to the world on March 13.

Listen to the March 12 interview by clicking here.

Listen to the March 13 interview by clicking here.

Listen to the March 14 interview by clicking here.

A bird’s eye view of history

13 Mar

by Patrick Novecosky

MARCH 13, 2013 (VATICAN CITY) — Having a bird’s eye view on history is not all it’s cracked up to be. When white smoke billowed forth from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, I was atop the colonnade of St. Peter’s Basilica. At least 100,000 people in the square below had waited hours in the rain and 40-degree weather (single digits in Celsius) for hours in anticipation of the conclave’s decision.


This was the second day of balloting. Thousands gathered in front of the basilica yesterday after the first round of voting for the new pontiff. They didn’t expect white smoke, so when black appeared, they merely groaned and turned to leave. This evening was different. The crowd had swelled to near capacity. Indeed, it was nearly impossible to make my way through the crowd, so I walked the perimeter of the square in order to get to the creaky temporary elevator set up to bring the press to the vantage point above the square.

After 30 minutes of picture-taking, I had a sense that history was about to unfold. That was confirmed when I looked at my rain-spattered watch. The Vatican had posted times for the smoke-watchers to fix their gaze upon the chimney. Today’s smoke was supposed to have risen at 7 pm. All of the previous burnings had been early. It was 7:04 pm. Something was up.

Being on top of the colonnade put me at a serious disadvantage over television viewers who could see multiple angles (including the chimney) and those in the square who had full view of large screens, many of which are now permanent fixtures in the square. So when the crowd burst out in shouts of joy and applause a few minutes later, I knew history had been made! Seconds later, the basilica’s bells began to ring — one of them just a few meters above me.


Within 20 minutes, a Swiss Guard brass band, followed by an Italian military band marched into the square below. The clock ticked. At times the minutes felt like hours. The photographers who were perched along the colonnade and the thousands below watched the basilica for any sign that might indicate the announcement of our new Holy Father. Some in the crowd burst into song, others clapped. Thousands of camera flashes popped. But everyone shivered. At time the rain appeared to have turned to snow. My gloveless hands were numb.

A videographer from the Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain, was busily checking her smart phone. “It’s Cardinal Scola,” she said, referring to the archbishop of Milan, Italy. “His twitter account is gone. It has to be him.” I had my iPhone with me, but using my thumbs at this point was useless. Too cold. Minutes later, she said, “Bergoglio? Who is Cardinal Bergoglio?” No one knew. A few clicks on her phone and she answered her own question, “Ah! Argentina!” The crowd was cheering, so we knew the announcement was imminent.

Then, about 75 minutes after the white smoke, red-clad cardinals began coming out onto the balconies beside the center loggia where the new pope would be introduced. The doors of the loggia at the center of the basilica opened. The crowd exploded! Even the often-jaded media folks around me were smiling.  “Habemus papem!” said French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran. I could see a lot of red, then the man in white. I had a great view–better than most–but I was still 80 meters away.

Papa Francesco


Pope Francis smiles upon the pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square

As soon as he spoke, I knew our new Holy Father was a man of great humility. You could hear it in his voice. (My video of his first moments as pontiff.)

“Brothers and sisters, good evening!” he said in perfect Italian to the roaring crowd.

“You know that the duty of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems as though my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world to get him. But here we are. I thank you for your welcome. The diocesan community of Rome has a bishop. Thank you!

“Before all else, I would like to say a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord may bless him and that Our Lady may watch over him.”


I remember telling a coworker, when John Paul II was ailing in the late 1990s, that whoever succeed him would have to be incredibly humble. Benedict XVI was among the most humble of men. Francis is cut from the same cloth. It’s to be expected. Humility and sanctity go hand-in-hand.

There will be tremendous analysis and scrutiny of this new pope in the days ahead. Is he liberal or conservative? A reformer? An outsider? Will he reform the Roman Curia? What really matters, though, is holiness. I don’t think we will be disappointed.

And our new pope has a sense of humor. After his election and acceptance, he said to his electors, “My brothers, may God forgive you!”

The longtime archbishop of Buenos Aires is the son of middle-class Italian immigrants and is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. He often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina’s capital.

The papacy doesn’t seem to have changed him. After his introduction to the world last night, the Holy Father declined a ride in the papal car. He instead hopped the bus to the residence in the Vatican Gardens where he had been staying with his brother cardinals over the course of the last week.

Francis has come to the Vatican! Viva il papa!

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor of Legatus magazine and this blog.


Patrick Novecosky in St Peter’s Square after the smoke had cleared

Black smoke. No Pope.

12 Mar
Black smoke billows from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel on March 12.

Black smoke billows from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel on March 12.

by Patrick Novecosky

MARCH 12, 2013–Some cheered, but most of the pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square groaned when black smoke began to billow out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel this evening at around 7:40 pm local time [2:40 Eastern].

The cardinals’ first vote in the 2013 conclave–as expected–yielded no winner. A two-thirds majority is necessary in order for the future pope to be asked if he accepts the “burden” of the papacy.

“As soon as the cardinals exit the Sistine and get on the mini-buses to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, their residence inside Vatican City,” writes former Vatican reporter John Thavis, “they begin to talk, to reflect on the balloting and, yes, even to promote their candidates to brother cardinals.

“There’s a reason the conclave generally begins with a single ballot in an evening session. The first ballot, which may find 15 or more cardinals receiving votes, gives the lay of the land, and the cardinals have some numbers to work with as they head off to dinner.”

Tomorrow, the cardinals will move from the Domus Sanctae Marthae to the Pauline Chapel at 7:45 am where, at 8:15 am, they will celebrate Mass. At 9:30am they will enter the Sistine Chapel, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and proceed to the voting process. The next smoke signal is expected around noon in Rome [7 am Eastern].

Around noon, they will return to the Domus Sanctae Marthae and, after lunch there, will go back to the Sistine Chapel at 4:00pm where they will pray briefly and resume the voting procedure until 7:00 pm [2 pm Eastern] when the final smoke of the day is expected to rise.

A billion Catholics wait and pray for the Holy Spirit to inspire the 115 elector who will choose the 266th successor of St. Peter.

Awaiting the smoke

12 Mar
St. Peter's Square, March 12, 5 pm local time.

St. Peter’s Square, March 12, 5 pm local time. Pilgrims watch voting cardinals take a vow of secrecy and loyalty just before the doors closed at the beginning of the conclave.

by Patrick Novecosky

MARCH 12, 2013 — Thousands of people are now crowded into St. Peter’s Square, huddling under umbrellas in the rain. They have been watching this morning’s Mass for the Election of a Pope, which took place inside the basilica, and the 115 cardinal electors processing into the Sistine Chapel this afternoon.

The cardinals then took their vow of loyalty and secrecy before the Master of the Papal Liturgical Celebrations declared, “Extra Omes!” (in Latin, essentially, “If you’re not a cardinal elector, hit the road!”) and closed the doors. Voting has begun!

Rome has been cold and wet these last several days. This morning was warm and sunny, but by early afternoon, the sky clouded over, small hail stones fell on the Vatican and the temperature plummeted. I’m rubbing shoulders and elbows with 5,000 other journalists from around the world, here to witness history — the election of the 266th man to lead the Roman Catholic Church.

Much has been written about who the new Pope will be. The consensus seems to be that his two main tasks will be to reform the Curia–the governance of the Church–and to implement the New Evangelization. Neither is a small task. Most people agree that we need a Pope with the tenacity to clean house at the Vatican and the personality to present the Gospel in a new and attractive way.Who that man will be will remain a mystery until a short time after the bells of St. Peter’s ring again and white smoke billows from the chimney over the Sistine Chapel.

Now, as the sun sets on the first day of the conclave, we await the smoke…