Everyone has their own story, and most of the ones coming out of the seminary here are adventurous, desperate tales of mad sprints in cassock, leather dress shoes disintegrating under the strain, through the driving rain, dodging nuns and Roman traffic, all in a frantic attempt to be there, to be for a moment at the center of the world.
Sadly I have no such desperate tale, but I was there.
I was there when they gathered up the first inconclusive round of ballots on that historic day, I was there when they burned them after the second round, and the black smoke went on so long that someone next to me said they must have put a cardinal in too. I was there when the first round in the afternoon paved the way for the last session of the day, and I was there when the white smoke came triumphantly pouring out over the Sistine Chapel.
I was in St Peter’s that day.
I went in the early morning to spend the day praying for the cardinals. Nothing against my flying confreres, most of them had class, but I did not, and needed to pick up a legal document around noon, so I decided to take full advantage. It was just great to be there. Despite the rain and wind, the atmosphere was electric. After the last vote of the morning, the moment of suspense when the already full square saw the first smoke, and the disappointment when it was black, I went to visit St. Peter’s, went to the consulate, and then back to my prayer station, just across the square from the Sistine chapel, with two of the TV screens and the smoke stack in my line of sight, and one of Bernini’s pillars at my back. When everyone started to shout, I took one look, saw it was white, and then I also ran to be as close as I could.
We waited in suspense, and when Pope Francis came out, none of those around me really knew who he was, but we were all immediately impressed by his humility and simplicity, just in those few words. It was just incredible, unbelievable to be there.
Where were you, when they elected Pope Francis? A friend commented to me that hearing my experiences made her feel that she was also here in some way, through me. And I think this is profoundly true! You were also here, here in our prayers, here through your prayers for the Cardinals these days, and here in the first blessing of Pope Francis which he extended to all people of good will throughout the world.
You were also in St Peter’s that day!