Now it starts all over again - the guessing games, the speculations - the search for the inside dope on who will be the next pope.
Only this time, as the 110 cardinals, who had installation of the late Pope John Paul, head somberly back to Rome for his funeral, there is a shortage of prophecies on who will succeed him.
The last time, after all, almost all the prophets were wrong.
"I think the situation calls for a muteness, almost," suggested the Rev. John Haughey of the Woodstock Theological Center and one of the priests who helped distribute communion to the hundreds of thousands gathered in St. Peters's square for the late pope's installation.
But few are likely to follow such counsel, and the guessing games indeed begin again.
The same rules of strictest secrecy that bound the August conclave will be in effect for the coming gathering of cardinals. But despite those rules, some details on the August gathering, which ended up selecting Albino Luciani, leaked out, and they may provide some clues as to the course the cardinals will follow in selecting the next pope.
According to the Rev. Francis X, Murphy, who has written widely on Vatican politics, the leading candidates as the last conclave opened were Cardina Giuseppe Siri of Genoa, a favorite of the conservatives, and Cardinal Sergio Pignedoli, considered relatively liberal, the president of the secretariat for non-Christians, and Luciani.
Cardinal Aloislo Lorscheider of Brazil reportedly received one vote, believed to be that of Luciano.
The votes for the four papabili juggled back and forth until the third or fourth ballot - there is disagreement among the experts here - where Luciano received the required two-thirds plus one.
The Cardinals went into the conclave the last time determined that the kind of pope the church and the world needed was a pastoral man - in contrast to a diplomat or member of the Curia - one who could relate quickly and easily to people everywhere.Because of the chaotic state of Italian politics, it was also deemed essential to have someone who knew Italian politics and who could also be counted on to take a firm hand with the Communists.
The papabili who would meet these qualifications and who were most frequently mentioned before the last conclave include Siri, 72, Cardinal Corrado Ural, 70, Archbishop of Naples; Cardinal Giovanni Colombo, 75, of Milan; Cardinal Salvatore Pappalardo, 80, of Palermo and Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, 57, of Florence.
Benelli, a confidant of Pope Paul VI, has spent the bulk of his career in the Curia, however, becoming the than a year ago.
Back in July, a group of knowledgehead of a diocese only a little more able Catholics - largely American and mostly lay - launched the Committee for the Responsible Election of the Pope. The committee, designed to provide information about papabili who might succeed Pope Paul, was highly visible during the August conclave and the days leading up to it.
Yesterday, however, committee chairman James Andrews said in a telephone interview from Kansas City that "everyone is just so confused and shocked" by the death of John Paul that they have no predictions about the next conclave.
"I think it's going to be very political and go on for a long time with a big battle, but everyone I talk to says, no, it's going to be short and pastoral," he added.
Some Vatican-watchers have suggested that now, as in the interregnum following the death of Paul, chances are better than they have been for centuries for election of a non-Italian pope. They point to the smaller number - 26 out of 110 - of Italians in the College of Cardinals and the vast strides in internationalizing the church, made by Pope Paul VI.
Among the non-Italians frequently mentioned are Cardinal Johann Willebrands of the Netherlands, Cardinal Jean Villot of France, who is the Vatican's secretary of state, and Cardinal Eduardo Pironio. Pironio, an Argentine, was born of Italian parents and is now perfect for the Congregation for the Religious at the Vatican.
"There might be a little more of a chance for a non-Italian this time, simply because there aren't that many Italians left," observed the Rev. Henry Nouween, internationally known theologian teaching of Yale Divinity School. Although Nouween has spent the last few months teaching in Rome, he disclaims any special knowledge of Vatican politics.
For theologians like Nouween and Haughey, papal politics is less important that the character of the pope.