Bay Area teacher uses conclave as a lesson

Teaching students about history as they live it

It doesn't matter where you turn, most people are talking about it.  Who will be the next Pope?  What's happening inside the Sistine Chapel?  How long will the conclave be?  The hashtag "new pope" has been trending for hours on social media as well. 

Now, the conversation has moved to a classroom full of students who will be witnessing history.

Steven Sims is in his twelfth year of teaching theology at Tampa Catholic High School.  He's using the Conclave as a teaching tool this week.  Sims has been explaining to his classroom of high school juniors the different scenarios when it comes to picking a new Pope.

Three votes have already been taken, with no one receiving the two-thirds vote from the Cardinals to be named the next leader of the largest church in the world.

"I thought that if I'm teaching at a catholic high school at a time that is so pivotal as this in the life of the church, its important," says Sims.

He says the earliest Papal election he can remember was 1958, Pope John the XXIII.  He says it was an event he will never forget.  Now, history will be made again with the selection of this new Pope.  The moment when the smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel turns from black to white will be ingrained in his student's memory as well.

Wednesday's assignment for his students, picking who they think the next Pope will be.  A centuries old tradition they will be using their iPads and smart devices to research.  Once a Pope is chosen, Sims says its something that will effect all of us, Catholic or not.

"What I try to impress upon them is its good to know about other religions, because its just good to know about other people," says Sims.  "And the more we know about each other the less inclined we are to fight with each other."

His students only remember two Popes.  Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.  As they witness history, Mr. Sims says he wants them to understand the meaning of these historical changes.

"This next Pope is the one that will be making the key, the one that will steer the church as they enter adult hood," says Sims.

He also offered his own choice.  He says he hopes its Cardinal Sean O'Malley from Boston, but if he had to pick who the Cardinals will choose, he's going with Cardinal Angelo Scola of Italy.

Stay with ABC Action News on air and online for the very latest on the Conclave.

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