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Sede Vacante

July 11, 2014

By Mary Beth Wighton
By: Mary Beth Wighton, Person with Dementia
Date: 2013-02-28

Today is a historical moment in the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI prepares for his final day as the head of the Catholic Church. He has become the first Pope in 600 years to step down.

In his last speech to The General Audience of over 150,000 people, he stated, “...I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” He will leave the Vatican for the last time and be brought to the papacy's summer retreat castle. The Swiss Guards who protect the pontiff, will march away and this will initiate the “sede vacante” - the empty seat of St. Peter. ( Pope Benedict XVI's eight year papacy will formally end.

My memory has drifted back to when I was a student in grade 4 at St. Benedict's school. My teacher, Sister Catherine, explained to my class the process of electing a new pope. She did an excellent job in communicating the significance of this holy and important event. Pope Paul VI had passed away in 1978. My grade 4 chums and I waited in anticipation for the new pope (John Paul I) to be announced.

In 1978, in Sarnia, the Catholic Church's for the most part followed closely to the rules and regulations involving altar boys. This was not the case for the church I attended – St. Benedict's. The parish priest, against custom, allowed girls to serve on the altar. I was fortunate to have the honour and the experience of being an altar girl.

It was a job which I took very seriously. I remember the feeling of being given my robe by Father Padelt. As I placed the long, white starched robe over my head, I felt like I was being transformed into someone else – someone much holier than myself. It was a blessing to be a part of the mass when the priest changed the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. I would carefully pour water over the priests' hands to ensure they were clean.

How different society is from my grade four days. I wonder how many people will even discuss today's historical event. Do Canadian's know that a potential replacement for the Pope is Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec? If elected, he would be the first non-European pope.

I also wonder if Pope Benedict XVI is setting a new precedent. Individuals are living much longer than our forefathers. It is now normal to live into your 80's and even 90's. Will the new Pope live late into his life? At this age, will he be able to lead the Church? Or, will he too resign due to ill-health?

These are uncertain times. It will take a strong individual to take the helm of the Catholic Church and navigate it through these choppy waters.

What words will people use to cross these waters? Are they words only meant for Catholics?

I believe that the ``Golden Rule`` does a wonderful job at conveying to all people the summation of Gods' entire way of life. The Golden Rule is: "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12).

In 1993, 143 leaders from all of the world's major faiths proclaimed the Golden Rule in the “Declaration Toward a Global Ethic” as the common principle amongst most religions. (

Imagine if each person in the world adopted this as their personal motto. This one line can truly change the face of the world. These words can cross all cultures, political boundaries, ages, sexual orientation, religious affiliations, agnostic and atheists. Hmm... maybe a bit too John Lennonish?!

My Dementia Team has people from a wide background and beliefs. At some later point in my life, I will be at the mercy of some of these individuals. I may look to them to help me get dressed, washed and eat. They may have to help me in the basics of life. At that time, my voice may not be loud enough to be heard. I might not be able to vocalize my needs and desires. I truly hope, that these members will have in their hearts The Golden Rule and act accordingly.

As Catholics look to the Vatican and wait for the words to announce a new pope: “Habemus Papam,” l ask you to look into your own heart and ask yourself if you treat others as you would like to be treated. Only you know the truth. Only you and God.