Luke de Pulford is training for the priesthood and lives in Rome.
The eyes of the world are on Rome. Who will be the new leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics? Will he be a liberal? Conservative? Will his election herald an apocalypse for the Catholic Church's counter-cultural teachings? More importantly: who cares?
Whatever your political views or religious beliefs, the Church matters. Catholicism has a reach and diversity unrivalled by any other institution. It is embedded in every corner of the earth. Its hierarchical structure means that a message or initiative from Rome can be disseminated to the smallest communities in the most remote parts of the world without any reference to any media outlet. As the head of this behemoth, the pope could, if he were really determined, mobilise on a scale that Barack Obama can only dream about.
In the midst of media-driven talk about the Church's decline, it's easy to forget that this is an institution unrivalled in longevity; an institution that has buried empires and ideologies from Rome to Communism and shows no sign of fading - it's bigger than it has ever been. You don't need to a doctorate in geo-politics or history to work out that seeking good relations with the figurehead of this group is a diplomatic no-brainer. When asked about the point of maintaining the UK's diplomatic ties to the Holy See, the former UK Ambassador, Francis Campbell, used to respond that there were two ways of looking at Vatican City: either as a religious fiefdom similar in influence to San Marino, or as another China.