Habemus Papum

Here’s a story you wouldn’t expect to find on an ATC site.

First a little background. Historically, British (and many other nations’) monarchs reign on average some 30+ years. It’s not unusual for a person to be born, live, and die and never experience (however peripherally) a coronation. Consequently it’s quite unusual when a monarch comes to the throne, and then in a very short time, expires. That leads to two coronations—quite likely in the same calendar year—and the period which defines that eventuality is called a “year of three kings.” It’s only happened twice in Britain since the Conquest—in 1483 (Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III) and in 1936 (George V, Edward VIII, George VI).

Popes, on the other hand, generally tend to have shorter reigns, principally because they are usually quite old when elected. And there are several instances (at least a dozen) of a “year of three popes,” most recently in 1605 (Clement VIII, Leo XI, Paul V). What does this have to do with ATC, you might ask? Hang on…

Pope Paul VI died in August, 1978. His successor, Pope John Paul was elected on 26 August 1978, selecting his name as an amalgam of his immediate predecessor—Paul—who, in turn was preceded by John XXIII. Then, on 28 September, just 33 days later, while working a midnight shift in the West Terminal, a guy from ORD called me and said, “hey, didja hear? The pope died.”

“Holy crap”, I thought, ironically, “that’s quite something.” I didn’t have much invested in it since I’m not Catholic, nor much of anything, actually. But really, how unusual is that? And it’s taken all this time for that memory to come bubbling to the surface so I could write about it here.

They locked up the cardinals and blew black smoke out the little chimney for several days and finally announced in historical Latin, “habemus papum,” and the next pope was elected. He chose the name “John Paul II” as an honorific in furtherance of the sentiment of his recently departed and short lived predecessor and went on to serve more than 25 years. He was particularly notable as he was Polish—the first non-Italian pope elected in several centuries.

Apparently there are no two subjects which are impossible to tie together.

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Last updated: 25 January 2011