Today was a day of deep blessings and deep frustrations. It was a day of wetness from rain and wetness from tears.
Let me dispense with the frustrations. The cellular network and internet in the area was nearly completely overwhelmed so that, with all the good will in the world in trying, I could not post from the square or other places I visited, such as the main room of the Vatican Press Office, etc.
This gave me a different view of things today. You can see the nice photos elsewhere. I’ll get to those, but for now, I’ll just write.
For the last conclave, I was mister on-camera guy, wonking away. I have done some of that this time, but less. I wasn’t able to take the last time in, as I wanted to this time.
We had really horrible weather today. I won’t go into it, but it is the weather that I – and friends can attest – hate the most. That said, for the first burning of ballots around midday, I felt like Moses. I had camped under the colonnade to stay a little dry and determined that, since I had asked you to pray for good weather, I should pray. I started the Rosary. The moment I started the Rosary the rain ended. Umbrellas furled up again into their pupae
form. The moment I finished the Rosary, the rain started again. I considered that, perhaps, in charity I ought recruit people to help me keep the Rosary going so that we could have a dry piazza.
In the meantine… in something not rare but not so very common in St. Peter’s Square, I fielded requests for confession. Not rare, but odd in this way, kind, quality, occasion.
Eventually, no smoke resulted. I headed out.
I met up with a dear friend, one my oldest friends in Italy, a layman, father of a family. We had some lunch and then went in search of some “santini”, or holy cards, of St. Peter. I found some at different stores and bought heaps. Why? More on that below.
Back to the piazza for more fun waiting in the rain. A seminarian from the US came by and we chatted until it was clear that there was no smoke for that ballot. My friend and I went to my short-let apartment for hot tea and some phone charging. All this time, armed with smart phones, etc., you would think there was a cellular connection? Internet? Pfffft. Fr. Z is silenced both by Zuhlsdorf’s Law and by the laws of the Catholic Church in Sede Vacante, which are both bound to draw crowds.
While my friend contemplated his own path home, I sort of decided, dunno why, to change into warmer clothes, get my wet coat on and head back to the piazza. To heck with a bus, quoth I, taxi this time. In the taxi, my friend called his wife who reported “white smoke” as I pulled up the proper app to view the verfied “white smoke”.
We zoomed to the piazza and began the wait, my shoulder still aching from the pack strap from the weight of gear and “santini”.
I was in the midst of mostly Italians, including a group of clerics and seminarians in cassock, greca (the long coat) and Roman hats. They were not, as it turned out, from some specialized group but from an Italian diocese. This, friends, is a hopeful sign. We had various conversations about the possible new Pope, I wonked a bit when they saw my press pass, and then… it started.
Lights went on in the loggia of the facade of the basilica.
The doors opened. Instead of seeing workers who would put out the old Pope’s arms over the rail, out came the Cardinal Deacon. The announcement was made.
There was a kind of shocked silence.
Instead of the eruption one might think, everyone was taking it in. Some told me later that they had a hard time hearing, but from where I was, in front of the obelisk… I heard every word.
It hit me.
Jesuit! American! New name! And… I know this guy!
More on that some day. I got to know him a little from when he came to Rome.
But the reaction in the piazza was not unlike, in some ways, the quite reception of “Woytyla”. Who??
He came out without all the trappings of office. He looked downward, almost to his feet, which is consistent with what I recall of this man of few words. I had the sense that he was, rightly, terrified.
In a few words he had people praying… people want to pray, you know, when there is a certain trumpet, certain voice to lead… praying for Benedict. And he began to pray…
The crowds took him up.
And that’s when I broke down.
Glory be to the Father….
He called for silence… he imposed a ready voluntary silence… which must preceed any undertaking.
Silence in St. Peter’s Square during the first words of the Pope. Silence.
I don’t know what to expect from this new Pope of ours. He reached out in a a definitive way to the old Pope, Benedict. Later we learned in a press conference that Francis called Benedict before appearing on the balcony and that he will visit him tomorrow/today/ He reached out in a definitive way to the Romans, for this is now his diocese. He reached out to a great many who are yearning for a strong but simple message.
And part of that message was silence.
Here is a man who, as head of the Jesuits in Argentina, helped to stave off Liberation Theoolgy by keeping his province under control. He lived in an apartment rather than the episcopal palace and rode public transportation. He has lived with one lung most of his life. He kept the priests of the place out of political strife. He cooked and cleaned for himself and took care of a disabled Jesuit brother. He is now “Francis”.
“Francis”, I thought.
I suspected that he was invoking Francis of Assisi for his simplicity and evangelical witness. But there is also Francis Xavier, the mighty Jesuit missionary.
Either way, neither saint was a pastel picture or statue. They were both as hard as nails and willing to die in their service of the Church. Think of Francis Xavier and the conversions and baptisms in Asia. Think of Francis of Assisi, who went for a face off with the Sultan during the Crusades and so impressed him that he survived with praises.
Personally, I worry about a Jesuit Pope, not because he might be Jesuitical. I suspect there are a lot of liberal, slightly Catholic Jesuits spinning this election like doomed Grimm’s figures, bizzarely working gold into straw. I worry a bit because there is an old adage that good Jesuits and good liturgical worship are almost like matter and anti-matter. Rare is the Jesuit who is also a good liturgist.
But, in the balance…. will this Pope turn back Benedict’s vision? No.
Is he going to change the Church’s teaching on homosexual sex? No.
Is he going to change the Church’s teaching on contraception? No.
Is he going the change… change… change…? No.
I suspect that, as a nearly complete outsider regarding the Roman Curia, he will begin to tred with tiny steps. But the Curia will be walking on eggshells around this unknown force in their midst. The house needs purification. I think he will undertake it, but perhaps not with heads on pikes along the Via della Conciliazione.
I have more and will write more eventually. But it is O’Dark Thirty and Father has been lugging “santini”, all now blessed by Pope Francis, in the rain, which wet me through, and, perhaps hid some of the wetness of my cheeks. That fools no one, of course. It wasn’t raining as we prayed. After these week of anger at the resignation, mixed with compassion for the frail old Benedict, whom I used to see in the halls of the Palazzo Sant’Uffizio and elsewhere, and the days of anxious hope for a man to continue a vision I sense is important for the Church…. habemus Papam, a man from the other side of the world, the first of his religious family, bearing itself the Name by which we are saved, and this Pope’s name is Francis.