I was lucky enough to be in St. Peter's Square the night Pope Francis was elected! Easily one of the most memorable nights of my life. It was simply electric and filled with so much joy. I was standing directly in front of the Loggia (the place where the pope came out above St. Peter's entrance for his first appearance) about 25 feet or so from the front barricades. It was about as close as you can get! The whole week surrounding this event was filled with hopeful anticipation, and there were cameras alllllllll over the place, but one of the most amazing parts was looking around the Square that night and sharing such a special moment in the life of the Church with tens of thousands of perfect strangers who in the very same moment were the familiar members of your own family waiting for Dad to introduce himself. It is hard to describe with words, but it was one of the most concrete moments in my life of having experienced the corporeal reality of the 'Body of Christ'. It certainly made an impression on me.
The days preceding the papal conclave were particularly furious here at the NAC as we hosted all of the American Cardinals and their secretaries. It was super cool to be with such ordinary but holy men who have the awesome responsibility of leading the universal Church. Just to be able to watch them with each other was a gift, seeing them prepare and open themselves to the Holy Spirit's work and asking Him to choose the next Roman pontiff. These men literally had hundreds of millions of prayers flooding heaven on their behalf. Talk about a sea of grace!
Everything officially began with the papal conclave Mass, in which all the voting cardinals (there are 207 in all, but only 117 of voting age--less than 80 years old), gathered inside St. Peter's basilica to celebrate the Eucharist and ask for the Holy Spirit's guidance in the choice of the 266th Vicar of Christ. Our rector here at the College was able to secure tickets for us to go to that Mass, and we had just about the best view in the house. I can't believe we were so fortunate. Take a look!
|Standing in line at about quarter to 8, before the basilica opened|
|Look at the first pic and you can see where the Sistine chapel chimney, pictured here, is located in relation to the basilica|
|My with my buddy Tyler Bischoff, we're standing right by our seats, and that's the main altar of the basilica behind us. Tyler is a fellow Michigander, a seminarian for the diocese of Gaylord, MI|
|This is what the papal crest looks like in the absence of pope. The Vatican issues a short series of mailing stamps with this emblem during the time of the conclave. They are much-sought-after by stamp collectors apparently.|
|Front of our Mass booklet, allows you to follow along because at various parts the Mass happens in several languages. You can probably guess what that Italian title reads: "Holy Mass for the Election of the Roman Pontiff"|
|This is me looking up from my seat. Basilica entrance to the right, out of the picture.|
|Speaking of cardinals, here they all come!|
|I've never seen so much red all at once!|
|My view of the altar|
|The procession has started! You can see those two big candle sticks sticking up in the air. The cross is between them, but it's a bit hard to see in this picture|
|All the voting cardinals processed in and around the back, they went up and kissed the altar, then descended and walked over to the right, in that area designated for them|
|Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who is the Dean of the College of Cardinals, was the main celebrant for the Mass|
After the Mass, the 117 voting cardinals left for the Casa Santa Marta (their sequestered living quarters during the conclave) and the Sistine Chapel to begin their preparations for the start of voting. With the exception of the very first vote, which takes place in the evening of the first day, all subsequent voting happens twice a day, and in each round they take two votes, so four votes a day. In the last papal election, Pope Benedict was elected on the 4th ballot, the first round of the afternoon session on the second day of voting. People were speculating about how many rounds of votes it would take to elect the new pope. We all thought no more than three or so days of voting, maybe six or seven rounds max. But all the anticipation was exciting nonetheless! And so the continual march between the College and St. Peter's Square began.
We moved up community evening prayer by half an hour so we could all get to the square in time to see the chimney smoke! It was a mass exodus of cleric-vested dudes walking briskly amidst the drizzly rain to get in on the party next door on the Vatican hill.
|In the Square for the first vote! Roof of the Sistine chapel is way up on the right over there, you almost can't see it.|
|This is me people watching.|
|A few big screens were set up so you could see the chimney close-up 24/7. Black smoke finally came out about 45 minutes late, no pope on the first ballot.|
|I was in class for the second ballot the following day, but came to the basilica for the third ballot, whose smoke was to go up around noonish. Still drizzling rain.|
|More people watching. News stations in the back there to the left, you can it better now.|
|Black smoke again. No pope!|
|This is about 5:30 in the evening of the second day of voting. Fourth ballot time, still drizzling.|
|We didn't get any smoke, just this seagull. No pope.|
With no election after the 4th ballot, people finally started to settle in and get serious. Most folks guessed it would be at least this many rounds of votes, and most also believed that the pope would be elected within the next 24 hours. So I walked back to the College for evening prayer and came right back down to the Square to watch the smoke for the fifth ballot. But in order keep this rolling, I will finish and publish this post right here. I'll put up the rest of my photos and vids in the follow-up post which chronicles the epic finale of the papal election. Hang in there!