Habemus Papam! We have a Pope!
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, now Pope Francis, was elected the 266th Bishop of Rome – or Pope – last Wednesday, and I had the privilege of being in Rome at the time.
It turned out to be a happy accident that my being in Rome coincided with Pope Francis’ election. As a Dominican friar, I was in Rome celebrating the fiftieth jubilee of religious profession of my confrere, Br. Edward. We had planned the trip back in January, well before we had any idea Pope Benedict would be stepping down – God’s providence is a wonderful thing.
While in Rome, the streets were abuzz with speculation of who would be the next Pope. I was privileged to be able to attend the opening Conclave Mass and afterwards I asked local Italians on the street if they would like to see an Italian back on the Chair of St. Peter. The majority said the same thing: No way! With the current Vatileaks scandal and other reform issues with the Roman Curia (most of which are Italians), they said it seemed broken and needed someone from a new place to fix it – make it right.
This is on top of the fact that Italians are also facing a corrupt civil government that is currently under change – again – and have one of the highest unemployment rates in all of Europe. “Someone from the Americas would be nice” they would say with a smile, hoping that a pope from the Americas would bring more tourists and pilgrims to Rome and Italy, helping the economy.
And someone from the Americas they got. SOUTH America.
I was in St. Peter’s Square on the day of the first voting. Black smoke. So Br. Edward and I returned at noon the next day for the next vote. Black smoke again. The next vote results would be that evening, and unfortunately, we had dinner reservations we could not break with another brother, so we would not be able to be at St. Peter’s for the results.
I had a feeling that it was going to be decided then.
Sure enough, that evening around 7:15, the white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel funneled out and the St. Andrew bell tolled. We had a new Pope.
We had just started our walk to the restaurant when it happened. People were running and shouting in the streets, some running to the other end of the city to go to St. Peter’s. I would shout “Habemus Papam!” out to strangers on the street and they would yell it back. At every shop and restaurant I would see people glued, standing in front the television.
When we got to the restaurant, which is usually quite busy, it was empty, except for the staff standing in front of the television, waiting. We found a table and watched with the locals inside. Everybody was brimming with excitement – who would be the next Pope? When Cardinal Bergoglio was announced, we were all stunned. An Argentinean, a Latin American, a Jesuit, the name Francis -- these were all firsts, and because of them, everyone was excited. We spent the rest of the night celebrating filled with wonder and speculation proposing what the new Pope might be like – what he would do.
And so we have a new Pope. As the successor of St. Peter, he is a sign of unity for Christians and their one faith, one Church and one baptism. As the keeper of the Keys of the Kingdom he is the supreme authority, shepherd and governor of Christ's Church. Pope Francis exercises the petrine ministry in continuity with his successors - especially Benedict XVI. May God bless Pope Francis and his petrine ministry of unity and shepherding the People of God.