We knew the election would not take long, especially since the Cardinals took several days to meet on the important topics before they entered the conclave. This gave them more time to get to know one another and to reach a common vision of what kind of leadership is needed at this point in Church history. So our guess was Wednesday or Thursday morning at the latest. It was most fortunate for us that a group of us had class at the Vatican Urbanian University (about a 5 minute walk from St. Peter´s Square) Wednesday afternoon. The professor of our last class let us out at 6:00 p.m., a half an hour early and we all headed down.
It was raining, yet people had been there all day. And not just a few: thousands of them! The neatest thing was to hear people saying, “I don´t care where he’s from, I just care that he’ll be the Pope.” Someone near me that I couldn´t see was saying in an ironic tone in Spanish, “Yeah, you can really tell that the Church is waning and dying.” There was a general atmosphere of joy and expectation. We had only been there for 30 minutes or so when the white smoke came pouring out, a little after 7:00 p.m. When that happened the crowd surged forward and we were suddenly quite a bit closer to St. Peter´s balcony than we had been.
During the past few weeks, I have learned all kinds of interesting (and otherwise useless, perhaps) bits of information regarding conclaves and the like. But there have also been profound things said that made me appreciate even more the gift of my vocation to consecrated life and the possibility of living in Rome and collaborating so closely in the renewal of our Movement. First was Pope Benedict´s resignation, which took me totally by surprise and touched me deeply. I felt it was sending a message on the service of authority, and also very courageous on his part to commit to a life of seclusion and hidden prayer for the rest of his earthly life. Then the whole experience of the conclave: it´s been so interesting to keep up on things and for them to be happening so close at hand. It definitely is not the same as hearing it from someone else. Finally, the very simple experience of Pope Francis’ “grand entrance”: a greeting, a few words to his new diocese of Rome, the simplest of Catholic prayers prayed together in one voice (in the vernacular!), his bowing down to ask for our blessing, and then giving us his. Since then he has been traipsing around Rome surprising people. That I´m sure you´ve heard about and if not you can look it up on www.news.va or on Cardinal Dolan´s blog www.archny.org.
What makes me glad we are going to have him as Pope is to know that he has been a courageous pastor in his diocese and in his Congregation (he is a Jesuit) and has taken flack for it. I think we need that. Also, his personal way of life is austere and humble, and I think this witness is very much needed, as a Church we have understandably lost credibility when we and our leaders have not always lived up to Jesus’ teachings on poverty, humility and charity.
As for the timing, I thought from the start that it was providential that the conclave was taking place during the novena leading up to St. Joseph´s feast day, since St. Joseph is the patron of the universal Church. And Pope Francis has actually decided to have his inaugural Mass that very day (March 19th).
The name he has chosen—which is after St. Francis of Assisi by the way, surprisingly for a Jesuit—evokes simplicity, humility, and Gospel poverty, something I feel the Lord has been inviting me to live more deeply over the last few months. And I´m even more excited now to be able to visit Assisi with my brother and sister-in-law this Holy Week, to get a dose of the Franciscan spirituality that will surely mark this pontificate.