So. In our last episode, we were just about to gather in St. Peter's Square at the conclusion of the second day of the conclave to view the results of the fifth round of balloting. I had been there around 5:30ish to see if the 4th ballot would produce any white smoke. It did not, so I hustled back to the College for evening prayer and hustled right back down afterwards amidst a mass exodus of Americans. Had there have been a Red Sea between us and the Vatican, we may not have parted the waters, but we would have at least called the Marines to fly in some motorized dinghies. Needless to say, people weren't entirely convinced we would see a new pope tonight, but they were darn sure they weren't going to miss anything just in case. This is approximately 6:45 pm Rome time, which in March means that it was already dark. As I may have stated before, though I can't remember: dealing with all the rain had its own advantages. The principal advantage being that all the people were squeezed into the Square at umbrella-radius distances from each other. Those latecomers such as myself, therefore, who had no propensity to melt in the rain like the Wicked Witch, could bob and weave underneath the maze of semi-wet rain jackets and still make our way fairly close to the Loggia.
So here we are. Role the eerie music as we duly note some similar circumstances:
|There are still many people, with many umbrellas. It is still raining.|
|The basilica is STILL THERE.|
|The new pope is still supposed to come out of that window when he is elected.|
But this, good friends, is where everything went CRAZY. Because the smoke came. There was about a five second delay as the chimney puffed out a sort of grayish-white, but when everyone realized that the suspiciously light color was not darkening, the mob began to surge forward and squeeze up against the barriers in front of the basilica. It was wild!!
|It was most definitely white. Then the bells started ringing, and the whole city quickly bore down upon St. Peter's.|
|Mysteriously, several hundred flags came out of nowhere and started waving in the air.|
|Including American flags, no worries. But what makes me most proud of this picture is that other person who also had the great idea to take a picture of the American flags. lol!|
|This is the "I was really there" photo.|
|The perspective makes it hard to see, but this is about 30 feet back from the front barricade. The Swiss guard is the regiment up there on the left, and the branches of the Italian military are up there on the right.|
We waited over an hour between the white smoke and the pope's first appearance. But no matter, the place was electric, and thanks to the Holy Spirit the drizzly rain stopped drizzling. Eventually, the new pontiff was announced and he came out give everyone his first papal air high five! You'll briefly see the cardinals come out at the adjoining windows, and you'll also see just how many people had their cameras at the ready!
It is hard to describe what it felt like in that moment. I was so excited to have a new holy father, and what a sincere moment of grace it was to be able to witness it in person. What most impressed me was the reality of history being made before my eyes. Not because it was a noteworthy blip in the happenings of historical man, but because it was a concrete moment of divine history when the Holy Spirit breathed upon us in a special way to say, "This is my new Peter." It was a moment of understanding more deeply just how much Jesus loves his Bride.
This is why we as Catholics make such a big deal about the pope! Because Jesus did. The papacy was instituted by divine command, from the lips of Jesus himself who said, "You are Peter". In the good pleasure of his divine wisdom, Jesus built his Church by the power of the Holy Spirit upon the Rock of Peter; this, among other reasons, in order to show that as we are both bodily and spiritual creatures, so also his Church, his Bride, his Body, would not merely be a spiritual reality but a concrete, visible, historical reality. That in the Church built upon Peter would be found the Church of Christ, that in the Church built upon Peter would be found the very keys to the Father's kingdom, that in the Church built upon Peter the gates of Hell would not prevail. I mean, these are sublime truths to behold. We call it Christ's Church because it is, but Jesus nonetheless willed that Peter and his successors should wield his own authority and power to teach, sanctify, and govern the Church Universal until Jesus returns on the last day. How very important it is, then, for every follower of Christ, and especially every Catholic, to be united to Jesus in Peter.
Anyway, I love the pope. I love the Catholic Church. I could talk about these things all stinkin day. But let's look at some more pictures first.
|First photo of the new pope!|
|Afterward, about half the square was vacated, and half the crowd stuck around to celebrate and take it all in.|
|Me and my diocesan brother Dan|
When we finally got back to the College, all the American cardinals were returning from the basilica as well, the camera crews and reporters were everywhere, and many of them had "post-conclave" interviews. So we welcomed them back and were able to watch them meet the press.
|This is our auditorium, Cardinal Dolan had his interview here.|
Cardinal Dolan spoke for about 15 minutes or so. I got to sneak in and watch the master in action. It was pretty neat to be able listen to someone's firsthand account of everything. You can see about a minutes' worth of it below:
It was a late night at the College, to be sure! I don't think I got bed before 2 in the morning. Couldn't miss all the action on such a momentous occasion.
|Picture I took from the College right before going to bed.|
The cherry upon the new papal cake was being able to be present for Pope Francis' installation Mass. We were privileged enough to participate in the Mass as Communion distributor helper.. people. Basically, we helped the several hundred priests distribute Holy Communion throughout the Square by following them around with umbrellas. So the people knew where the priests were, and in order to keep things organized... That was such a cool thing to be a part of!! I will show you some pictures of the Mass with a few explanations along the way.
|Leaving the College for Mass. That's Paul Solomon sticking his tongue out. He and I had our apostolate together this year at a homeless shelter of sorts run by the Missionaries of Charity.|
|Our official cards that say we are Communion Companions/Accompanists/Conductors|
|Walking into the Square from the side, we would sit there in that corner block of chairs until the Gospel reading.|
|Not a bad view!|
|The Mass booklet and official Pope Francis rookie card.|
|This is me taking a picture of Andy Mattingly taking a picture.|
|He thought it was funny. He also wears an excellent beard.|
|The flags returned in force.|
|So about 45 minutes before Mass, the pope came out on his pope-mobile to greet the crowd!! Time for an explanation.|
What I would like you all to note is the current position of my spot. The pope is coming toward us, and what I decided to do, much like Pope Benedict's last Wednesday audience, was to film him passing by as opposed to take snapshots. I specifically did this because I knew I would be sharing it with you on my blog. I wanted you to see Francis in his close-up reel! You will also note from the perspective of this photo that the geometry suggests his eventual passage to be within about 10 feet of my camera. Indeed it was. I took this one snapshot and then quickly switched it over to movie mode. I was up on a chair and took a stand-by video of his passing that was... guys it was nothing short of poetry. No flailing arms or cameras in the shot, no shaky hands. Pure smooth close up of Francis' face, and he was even looking in our direction!
I was SO FRUSTRATED to discover after returning from Easter that I had inadvertently deleted this video in order to make room on my memory card for my Easter travels. Nooo! Blast! Alas, it wasn't meant to be. So use your imagination at this point and watch him mentally pass by RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.
Now I'll share some photos I took of the Mass itself. Generally I am of the opinion that photos shouldn't be taken after Mass begins. But clearly, I was breaking my own rule for this one. It was a very special occasion and I knew I would want to share this experience with you on the blog, so please forgive me any unintended offense!
|Pope Francis incensing the altar|
|Stopping by the statue of the Madonna and Child.|
|It was during the reading of the Gospel that we were marched up along the side of the Square behind the basilica, to receive instructions about how we were going to help with communion.|
|To my right. Where we were walking from, so those stairs two pictures previous are in that direction.|
|The guys to my left.|
|They moved us down to the right side of the basilica while we waited with our yellow-and-white Communion umbrellas.|
|Several hundred priests stood in front of the outdoor altar and held individual ciboria filled with hundreds of thousands of hosts to be consecrated. Whoa!|
|After Mass, we were herded out into the Square through the big walkways between the barricades. The flags continue.|
|We were supposed to jet across to the left but got stuck. This is the "we are stuck here" photo.|
|So we had to turn around and find another way.|
All in all, the entire shebang was a smash hit. The night of the election may have been the most memorable night of my life, one that will surely continue to shape my relationship with Christ and his Church. I'm so happy that you FINALLY get to see all these photos and videos as well! I have been trying forever to get these up here. I appreciate all the patience and prayers as I worked through the final months of my first year here in Rome.
As we look forward to summer, hopefully I can continue to catch you up on the highlights of my year. I'll be doing some pastoral work in Rome, Germany, and Sardinia between now and August, and will be doing some traveling as well. Please keep praying for me! And pray that I keep this blog updated as well! God bless.