Vatican City - In a solemn ritual dating back to the Dark Ages, cardinals from around the world have gathered in the Vatican's famed Sistine Chapel to elect a successor to Pope John Paul II.
The 2004 National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals, who are off to a strong 6-4 start, will be sending ten players to the conclave. Representing the team - and North American Catholics - will be pitchers Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder and Jason Isringhausen; infielders David Eckstein, Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols; outfielders Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker; catch Yadier Molina; and manager Tony La Russa.
While not all of the members who have traveled to Rome are Catholics, they have promised to "dig deep and pray hard", according to a statement released by the team.
"This could definitely have an impact of the quality of the next Pope," commented one Vatican official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The intricacies and impact of this decision are not to be taken lightly, and while I am sure that the Cardinals are smart and capable men, I just don't understand how they are qualified to be a part of this process."
Tony La Russa shared some of these sentiments. "If you want to talk about a huge impact, let me tell you something, our key players have been taken out of the line up for at least a week - and guess what, the team still needs to play its regular schedule. We're not going to be getting any mulligans either; MLB has made that much clear. It feels like we're getting the shaft."
A confused Mark Mulder, interviewed shortly after his arrival in Italy seemed mystified by the entire process. When told that the proceedings would be conducted in Latin, the already befuddled ballplayer appeared even more perplexed. "Oh great," he said, "that's just great. I mean it will be OK for Albert and Yadier, they're both Latin, but for the rest of us, what are we supposed to do?"
Chester Gillis, chairman of the department of theology at Georgetown University, expressed grave reservations with the inclusion of professional athletes in the conclave. "This is an odd decision - and a troubling one," he said. "That they are called the Cardinals doesn't really qualify them to make a decision that will affect the lives - and afterlives - of the world's one billion Catholics."
"We take this very seriously," said first baseman Pujols. "On the flight over, I read the Bible for a while and everything." Observers around the world are praying that Pujols and his teammates are up to the challenge. "If their performance in last year's World Series is any indication," said one Vatican watcher, "we're screwed."