I'll never forget yesterday for as long as I live, but the Italian newspaper I picked up today can't hurt.
Last night we had a planned dinner with the Provost of CUA with our program. The plan was to meet in St Peter's Square around 7:15pm, after the supposed black smoke would have appeared, and then we would head off for dinner.
No one expected white smoke. My friends and I were already planning to camp out in St. Peter's all day today, since that's when it seemed most likely it would happen.
So there we were, hanging around in St. Peter's Square, in the rain, waiting for black smoke.
But all of a sudden...
Absolute shock. Mayhem. Tears. Thousands rushing the square.
But not at first. At first.. Silence.
Then.. "Wait..Smoke..Smoke.. WHITE smoke! WHITE SMOKE!!!!"
Unsurprisingly, it took a moment to process! As soon as Pope Benedict announced his resignation, we had known we would be here in Rome for conclave. Undoubtedly, we realized that we would in fact be in St. Peter's Square for the election of the new pope. Even as we stood waiting for the black smoke we expected that night, we knew that white smoke was a far-reaching possibility.
But nothing could have prepared me for the night I had last night. I am entirely confident in the fact that this blog post simply cannot do it justice.
Anyhow. Smoke. Rushing the square. Getting surprisingly close to the very front.
Realizing all the cell networks are jammed so I can't call everyone I know.
This hour felt like both an eternity and an instant. As you can imagine, the atmosphere in the square was incredible. The Vatican is lit up beautifully, there are birds flying over the sky, there are people singing, crying. And with every glance backward, the crowd seems to have grown exponentially.
We're all wondering who it could be. Wondering what his name will be.
I can assure you no one I was with threw out the name of Bergoglio or even, "that guy from Argentina." My friend Cait however, did mention the name Francesco. Something about the birds flying around the square tipped her off.
Finally, the Swiss Guard assembled. The lights went up. It was happening.
The Cardinal Deacon stepped out to announce,
"We have a pope!"
Of course, as soon as we saw the deacon we all went ballistic because here we've been waiting for an hour to see our new Holy Father and thought the first guy we saw was him. No dice. He leaves. They rearrange the curtains. 5 minutes later-
We see Pope Francis for the first time! And if we thought we had lost it when we saw the deacon, we were absolutely beside ourselves we saw Papa Francesco.
I have to admit, I was expecting the arms to be open, the red vestments to be on, maybe some tears from our Holy Father.
Instead, I saw a man clothed simply in white. Standing steadily. Looking out over the square.
Papa Fran began to speak. In Italian. Luckily, we had a very nice man in front of us who translated for us! Therefore, we got to be on the Pope's opening joke- The cardinals, looking for the new bishop of Rome, went all the way to the ends of the earth to find him!
Obviously, this a papal "first' on so many levels. The first non-European. The first Francis. The first Jesuit.
As I'm sure all of you were watching, you know that he then led us in the Our Father, The Hail Mary, and the Gloria. He had little else to say. Before giving us his first blessing, he bowed his head and asked us to be silent for a moment and first pray for him. An incredible act of humility, much like his choice of simple white vestments, and all the decisions we're beginning to find out about today- choosing to ride back to St Martha's in the bus with the Cardinals, rather than in the Popemobile that is rightly his to use now, being just one of them.
It was an incredible night. I still can't believe it, when I see pictures like the one just above, that I was in that crowd in St. Peter's last night. I was there. I'll be at his first Angelus on Sunday. I'll be at his installation on Tuesday morning in St. Peter's Square.
“And now let us begin this journey, bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome, which is the one that leads all the churches in charity. A journey of fraternity, of trust between us. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the world so that this might be a great brotherhood. I hope that this journey of the Church that we begin today, and in which my Cardinal Vicar here present will assist me, will be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.” -Pope Francis