The day for rehearsal came. The four of us Americans hustled on down to St. Peter’s and reported to the location to which we were instructed to present ourselves. Msgr. Noe took us out to the front of the basilica, off to the right as you face the entrance. I was surprised at the informality of the practice. Noe was not the most affable man, at least not outwardly. He first asked if we spoke Italian, to which we all responded emphatically, “Si!” Then he sized us up from head to toe, silently. He then walked up to me and said, “Padre, Lei e’ il piu alto. Allora, portera’ la croce.” (You are the tallest; you will bear the cross.) “Carry the cross?” I thought. “My God, I am going to be next to him, the Pope, as he is crowned,” because we still assumed that John Paul would accept the papal tiara and it was the custom in previous enthronements for the acolyte bearing the cross to accompany the pope during that segment of the ceremony. It was, I was told, done from the main loggia of the basilica, right above the main doors.
Noe then took us into the basilica and we walked through the entrance procession that was to occur. I would lead the entire column of priests, bishops, cardinals and finally the Pope. I was to be the first out of the basilica and into the light of the outdoor Mass.
Noe showed me my route. “Walk slowly, make good angled turns, process directly to the altar constructed out from the main doors, place the cross in the base located at the left side of the altar, then descend down the steps to the far end of the first row of chairs and walk slowly between the first and second rows which will be empty as the bishops will follow later and occupy them. Don’t pay obvious attention to the heads of state that would be seated to the right in front of you. You will be walking within inches of their faces. When you get to the end of the row, nearest the basilica, proceed across the back of the altar and occupy your chair to the right. All of this was will occur before the bishops descend to reverence the altar; the priests will precede them and be moving to the right to take their seats.”
“Easy enough”, I thought. “But what about the tiara?”
It dawned on me something different was going to happen. He never mentioned the tiara.
When I got back to my room, I was told that the new Pope had elected to not be crowned or enthroned. He was to be installed.
I was disappointed again in our new Pope, only this time for selfish reasons.