Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam!

“We have a pope!” were the first words out of my mom’s mouth. She called me at about 1:15 p.m. to tell me that white smoke was curling up from the Vatican, signaling the conclave had elected a new pope.

Watching the coverage on EWTN was emotionally and spiritually moving. I tried to imagine myself being one of those people among the enormous throng gathered there. Oh, what I’d give to be a journalist in Rome right now, documenting this moment in history!

Remembering when I stood in Vatican Square in 2007 as a student from Franciscan University, I could almost feel again the physical and mystical embrace of standing inside those two pillared arms of mother church. While the church bells were tolling loudly on this holy night, people were chanting and cheering. On their faces was an expression of genuine joy and good will over the election of the 265th successor of St.  Peter.
Looking into the faces of the crowd, I saw many of the faces were young – seminarians and religious and young lay men, women and children. Seeing all the flags waving from continents across the globe reminded me of my experience at World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, Spain. Everyone packed in together, representing the entire world. The reality of the church in its universality and youthfulness struck me so vividly then. 

For those who may not have watched it, the first indication that the pope was about to come out was that the lights went on in the windows by the balcony. The crowd erupted in cheers seeing that light in the darkness – a real symbol of hope.

Time stood still.

Then there was an announcement of the new pope. The crowds followed up with a chant of “Fran-ces-co! Fran-ces-co!” while I wondered who it could be.

Then the surprise came. No one had expected this 76-year-old cardinal from Argentina to be elected. People had their eyes set on younger cardinals (in their 60s). It turns out, this Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was a serious contender during the last conclave when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI. I wonder what it was like for the cardinal to be through this twice – if he felt beforehand, leading up to this day, a certain summons and prompting from the Holy Spirit?

Did you ever watch a child running to the door and bouncing up and down, when their father returns home after a long day at work? They are so giddy with excitement and ready to jump into his arms. It felt, from the immense cheers that greeted Pope Francis when he stepped out, that we were all children like that again welcoming our daddy.

When Pope Francis came out on the balcony and stood looking at the people, he looked at first as though he were simply taking it all in, fathoming the immensity of his calling and the responsibility of his role. His countenance seemed to change from "just looking" to being overcome with deep emotion or sadness that turned into warmth and love. 

He looked like a man at peace with himself and God, confident, and humble.

Addressing the crowds in his native tongue, his first greeting prompted laughter, “As you know, the duty of the conclave is to give Rome a bishop," he said. "It seems that my brother cardinals went almost to the ends of the earth to find a pope.”

It seems like more than just a coincidence that the next World Youth Day 2013 is scheduled to take place in Rio, Brazil. I'm imagining a frenzy of young people from South America signing up for World Youth Day now! These young people from Rio, who I met at World Youth Day in Spain, will certainly be happy to welcome Pope Francis when he comes this summer!

A happy group of young people from Rio, Brazil

At the end of World Youth Day, we traded our American flag for an Argentine flag at the request of a group of young people from Argentina. I was reluctant about losing our flag at that time, but didn't realize until now IT WAS A SIGN!!!!

It's even more fitting our new pope comes from Latin America, because Latin America holds 42% of the world’s Catholics, while many more of the Catholic population is Hispanic.

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal says, “The new pope was the archbishop of the Buenos Aires diocese, in a region with the largest concentration of Catholics in the world – a reflection that part of the church’s destiny lies in lands outside Europe, for centuries its stronghold.”

I know I wasn’t the only one to immediately bond with the new pope. I felt tears spring into my eyes. The commentators conceded the same thing – that there was a connection between the crowd and him.

He appealed to us to pray with him an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. How awesome to join our prayers with his and then how humbling, when he asked for our prayers prior to giving his blessing as Bishop of Rome. He bowed as a prayerful silence swept through the crowd. I bowed my head and prayed for him, too. 

A few moments later he stood tall and gave his blessing along with a generous plenary indulgence; he has chosen to begin his papacy with mercy.

He is also a pope of many firsts. The first to choose the name Francis - calling to mind the peaceful warrior St. Francis of Assisi and the Jesuit St. Francis Xavier. He is also the first pontiff from the Americas and first Jesuit pope. I sense an outpouring of spiritual graces is in store for us and the world.

How exciting to witness this historical moment in the 2,000 year history of Christianity!

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