Benedictions: The Pope in America

Interest groups are cranking up campaigns to take advantage of the publicity attending Benedict’s visit, and among them is one of the more novel approaches I’ve seen: According to a CNS story, Physicians and Nurses Against Tobacco, a U.S.-based group, is launching an on-line petition asking the pontiff to make the 108-acre Vatican the world’s first tobacco-free state.
New York eateries are one thing. Even Dublin has banned smoking in pubs. But the Vatican? Seems next to impossible. Not only do Italians smoke like chimneys, but Vatican employees–lay and clerical–seem especially addicted to nicotine.
Yet Benedict is a decidedly abstemious fellow, so who knows. The Vatican did ban smoking inside all buildings in 2002, well after my time there. But that led to a rather dodgy situation during the 2005 conclave, when the cardinal from Portugal, Jose da Cruz Policarpo, was spotted sneaking out of the supposedly secure residence at night to light up a cigar. No one complained then, or the next evening when white puffs (gray, actually) came wafting out of the Sistine Chapel smokestack announcing Joseph Ratzinger’s election…It was better than the first ballot, when the cardinals tried to burn the ballots but wound up filling the precious frescoed chapel with smoke when the stove backed up. Povero Michelangelo.
Incense, candles, conclaves–could there really be a Catholic Church without smoke? Even the beloved “Good Pope” John XXIII (photo below) liked to enjoy a drag once in a while, it seems. Still, there could certainly be a Vatican without smoking. Sign on here. John%20XXIII%20with%20cigarette.jpg

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