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Plaque to adorn Sacred Heart until new pope named

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A plaque engraved with the words "Sede Vacante" will hang over the entrance of the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of Sacred Heart until a new pope is named.

Monsignor P. Edward Sadie unveiled the plaque at 2 p.m. Thursday when it was to begin gracing the main entrance of the church on Leon Sullivan Way. Created by local artist Kathi Dery, the wooden plaque says "Sede Vacante," which is Latin for "the seat being vacant."

The 2 p.m. time here of the unveiling of the plaque was scheduled to coincide with the 8 p.m. time in Rome when Pope Benedict XVI would become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.

On Thursday afternoon, a soft snow fell as Sadie climbed a tall ladder to remove a purple cloth covering the plaque. He was observed by members of the media and fifth-grade students from Sacred Heart Grade School along with Principal Terri Maier.

The moment was spiritual as well as educational.

Sadie explained to the children that the period between popes is called the interregnum. He prayed with the children. He offered a blessing.

Maier said the historical event is also incorporated into education at the school.

An empty chair inside the school called "Chair of Peter" is draped in white, the color worn by the pope. The Apostle St. Peter was the first pope and the chair is empty as a visual reminder that a pope is yet to be named.

On April 19, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI was elected the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Several significant local events happened during his papacy.

On June 6, 2005, Father P. Edward Sadie was elevated to the rank of monsignor. On July 13, 2007, Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral was designated a Diocesan Shrine of Santo Nino. On November 9, 2009, Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral was elevated to the rank of a minor basilica.

A Daily Mail reporter enjoyed a papal audience at the Vatican in September of 2008 with Pope Benedict XVI speaking six languages as he welcomed visitors from several countries united by faith. When he offered a blessing to those from the United States, many in the crowd sang "God Bless America" with tears in their eyes.

The Associated Press reported that on the eve of his retirement he bid an emotional farewell to his flock as he talked of moments of "joy and light" as well as difficulty "when it seemed like the Lord was sleeping." An estimated 150,000 people flooded St. Peter's Square for the pope's last general audience.

The 85-year-old pope bid farewell to his closest advisors and the cardinals. He assured his flock of 1.2 billion that he was not abandoning them.

When he announced that he would vacate the papacy, he cited health reasons and said he would choose a life of prayer and meditation.

West Virginia's highest-ranking Catholic official praised the pope's courage and humility following the pontiff's announcement that he planned to retire on Feb. 28.

Bishop Michael Bransfield, head of the Wheeling-Charleston Roman Catholic Diocese, said the pope's decision showed how much he cared for the church.

"The Holy Father is being realistic about his physical limitations at this time in his life," Bransfield said. "I admire his courage and humility."

According to the diocese's website, there are 83,000 Roman Catholics in West Virginia.

Bransfield serves as president of the Papal Foundation that helps raise funds for the pope's charitable foundations around the world. The position has given him the opportunity to interact with the pope on numerous occasions over the years.

During a homily at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling, Bransfield said it was significant that the pope made such a courageous decision during the Lenten season.

"We always trust in the Holy Spirit and ultimately, because the upcoming Lenten season is a deeply spiritual time for Catholics, we must continue to have great trust in the Holy Spirit during this period of transition in our church."

The last time a pope gave up the Holy See was 1415, when Gregory XII abdicated to resolve a division within the Catholic Church.

It has been reported that Benedict would live in a cloistered convent inside the Vatican. He has said his waning years and energy made him better suited to the life of private prayer.

A conclave of cardinals will vote in secret to elect Benedict's successor.

As that process continues, Sadie is asking people of faith to unite in prayer.

"I ask the people of faith here in the Kanawha Valley, especially our fellow Christians, our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, to join our Catholics in praying that the one we call the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob guide the cardinal electors in choosing a pope who will bring us closer together and help us achieve world peace," Sadie said.


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