Vatican City - The chant rippled across the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square: "Viva il papa" ("Long live the Pope"). Vatican officials, however, are not expecting the 78 year old Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, to have an especially long Pontificate.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist," said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls through and interpreter, "to realize that Benedict isn't going to be setting any endurance records, but he is a good man and will keep the seat warm very effectively."
Asked to clarify and expand on this statement, Mr. Navarro-Valls claimed he couldn't understand the question and walked off smiling. Another Vatican source, speaking on condition of anonymity, was more candid in his comments.
"It is like Joaquin says," said the highly-placed source, "no one lives for ever but some people live less than others. At this point, it is safe to say that His Holiness Benedict XVI will probably live less than 15 years, no? We are taking a lesson from the American rock and roll music, ‘moss doesn't grow on a rolling stone'.
"What I mean by this," he continued, "is that plans are already underway for the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of his successor. This is in part due to his advanced age, but also in recognition of the tremendous visibility the death of Pope John Paul II provided for the church."
Marketing and branding doyen Regis McKenna sees this as a savvy move. "Since the iron is still hot, it makes good sense for the Catholic Church to strike again," he explained in a soft and thoughtful voice. "The death of Pope John Paul II was a watershed event and to already raise the specter of Benedict's death should keep the faithful tuned in to what is happening in Rome."
Initially, church leaders from the developing world had voiced their concern with the election of the conservative German cardinal, but as word of his likely short stay made the rounds, the tone became more conciliatory. In comments made to CNN, Jurandir Arauj of the National Conference of Bishops Afro-Brazilian Section expressed his feeling that Benedict XVI was too conservative.
"I have given this issue more thought," he explained during a later interview, "and have come to realize that His Holiness has much to offer the church at this time. I, and all of my brothers and sisters in the Afro-Brazilian community, will support Benedict XVI for his entire time at Pope. Viva il papa!"
In his comments to the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI seemed resigned to his fate. "Pope John Paul II left a great and long legacy. I can only hope to reach a fraction of the greatness achieved by His Holiness."