I was in the second grade the last time a Pope died. As a Protestant attending a Catholic elementary school, the way I made sense of Catholicism was that it was just like what my family did, only way, way more complicated. Our principal was a priest and my first grade teacher had been a nun; it seemed to me that all that was special and different about the strange ways of Catholics was handled by this special cadre of people, and that the rest of Catholics were pretty much like the rest of us. So I was quite taken aback when Mrs. Blankenship announced to our class that the Pope had died with tears streaming down her face. She tried very hard to impress the importance of this event on our young minds; I remember being puzzled by her emotional reaction, and jealous because it felt like I was missing out on something Big and Important.
Who the cardinals choose as the next Pope will be a very big deal, across the world — maybe not politically, but certainly culturally and socially. No _single_ individual in the world wields more power than the Pope. It will matter for everyone, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. God grant the cardinals wisdom and compassion as they make their choice.
fn1. I don’t recall if it was Paul VI or John Paul.
fn2. If we go with Paul Muad’Dib’s adage, “He who can destroy a thing controls that thing,” then top honors might have to go to the American President, who can, theoretically, destroy most of the world by instigating nuclear war. But the fact that that power will almost certainly never be used, and that a madman President wouldn’t be able to act alone to trigger it, means that as an individual, His Holiness still wins out.
fn3. If Christopher Buckley’s short story “proves prophetic”:http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200304/buckley, Francis Arinze is a shoo-in.