EDWARDS, Colorado - Local Catholic schoolchildren cheered along with the rest of the world when a new pope was elected Wednesday.
St. Clare students packed into the school lobby for a live stream from the Vatican, watching Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina emerge as Pope Francis, the new leader of the Catholic Church.
"We all cheered along with the people in St. Peter's Square," said Sister Mary Andrea, a religion teacher at St. Clare.
It's been a month of miracles for St. Clare, Sister Mary Andrea and her students. Social studies, religion, history ... The lesson plans wrote themselves.
"We talked about what a conclave is and where it comes from," the sister said.
(The Latin phrase "cum clave" meaning "with a key.")
They learned that the longest conclave began in the year 1200 and lasted more than two years. Everyone got so irritated that they locked the voters in and wouldn't let them out until they had a pope. That's how, in the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinals gather to elect a pope.
And there are higher purposes.
"It's also for the cardinals to prayerfully seek the leadership of the Holy Spirit," said Sister Mary Andrea.
Mostly the cardinals communicate with God, but they also have a word or two with one another. The cardinals vote twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. If they don't get to a decision, they talk about it over lunch.
Speaking of talking about it, St. Clare students did.
"We had the television tuned into news channels. The students were very excited. They kept looking at the television and asking, 'Is there smoke?'" said Sister Mary Andrea.
Sister Mary Andrea was facing her students and not the television, which was a lesson in perspective.
"You have to tell me," she said smiling at her students. "I'm facing you."
That first vote that first day tends to be an elimination round, and like all cream potential popes quickly rise to the top.
This year's crew of cardinals wasn't nearly as disagreeable as that 1200s group. This time around they flew some black smoke, but by Wednesday the puff of white smoke wafted skyward and a new pope was elected.
You don't have to be a cardinal to ascend to the papacy, although you have to go back to the 1400s to find a pope who wasn't, Sister Mary Andrea said.
"Any baptized male Catholic could be pope," she said.
They vote, he accepts, he's bestowed with the vestiges and ring, and has the job for life if he wants it. Pope Benedict cited declining health when he became the first pope in 600 years to resign. Pope John Paul I had the shortest papacy, 33 days in 1978.
"We're grateful for Pope Benedict and we're grateful for Pope Francis, and we pray that he leads the church according to the Lord's heart," said Sister Mary Andrea.
Many religions venerate St. Peter, considered the first pope.
The Archbishop of Denver, Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, invited all Christians to give thanks for the new pope.
"For 2,000 years, the successors of St. Peter have served as the rock - the 'visible source and foundation' of unity in the life of the Church," he said. "Today, Pope Francis takes up the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. His leadership, his guidance, and his friendship with Jesus Christ will guide Christ's disciples for the years to come."
Pope Francis' name harks back to one of the most venerated figures in the Roman Catholic Church, St. Francis of Assisi.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.