Habemus Papam! Our new Pope Benedict
An earthquake, or an army about to invade the city? No, a new Pope!
ROME, Simon Donnelly. White smoke was what we were all waiting for. And during a coffee break in our late-afternoon seminar class yesterday afternoon (Tuesday) I heard a student saying: "My husband says the TV seems to be showing white smoke...". I confirmed this by cellphone with a friend who had already jumped on the first bus he could find to get to St Peter’s. It was 6.10pm. The news had come earlier than anyone had expected. I told our class, and the professor let us go... He had to!
We ran, jumping over each other, to get out of the front door of the Pontifical Gregorian University... Around us, everyone was running. The whole city seemed to be running! Priests, sisters, tourists... People were shouting to each other "Habemus papam!" Traffic was jammed, and people were running! I have never seen anything like it. As if there were an earthquake, or an army about to invade the city... or a new Pope!
As we ran across Piazza Navona, a voice called my name: it was our Dean of Philosophy, an American Jesuit father, from our university. He ran with us, clutching his umbrella. He knew an even shorter route than we did. We ran down the Via dei Coronari (‘Road of rosaries’, which hundreds of years ago was the most direct access route for pilgrims to St Peter’s), alongside the Tiber, across the bridge, and straight up the Via della Conciliazione.
Thousands and thousands of people were converging on the square every minute: it was nearly full before 6.30pm. We wormed our way in at the back, and wriggled further forward like we have learnt to do in crowds at St Peter’s. Every minute thousands more people were arriving, from work, from hotels, on their motorini (motor scooters), by bus...
Seminary brothers and priests arrived by bus, or on foot. One of them told me: as soon as one of the bus drivers on the way to St Peter’s heard that there was white smoke, he drove like a maniac: faster than normal even for Italian bus drivers!! He didn’t want his passengers to miss anything.
Ancient words: Habemus Papam!
The square was bathed in soft, late-afternoon light: a beautiful, peaceful moment. Then a gentle rain began, but so light we could hardly feel it. And we didn’t mind anyway.
Again, for the hundredth time in these last few weeks, the whole world seemed to be on the piazza, this time to await news of great joy. The mystery of these days would be solved: someone was to become our new pope, the new leader of the apostles of Jesus Christ. One man inside the building in front of us already knew the single job that would take up the rest of his earthly life.
After what seemed like a long time (but was only about 45 minutes), there was activity on the balcony of the basilica, and finally a small figure in red emerged, flanked by a few others. It was one of the cardinal s of the conclave, Cardinal Martinez: ‘Cari fratelli e sorelle, chers frères et soeurs, liebe Brüder und Schwester, dear brothers and sisters...’ And then the words of the centuries, these words in Luke’s Gospel from the angel to the shepherds, the words every Catholic knows, whether he has experienced such a moment personally or not: ‘Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum... habemus papam!’
DEAFENING applause! A crowd wild with joy! The chair is no longer vacant! There is a new Bishop of Rome, and of the world!
He is so familiar to us who live in Rome...
‘Joseph...’ Could there be any other Josephs than the one we are thinking?? And this quirky Latin word order made us wait longer ‘...of the Holy Roman Church... Cardinal... Ratzinger’. An eruption of cheers! A Jesuit professor shook my hand. ‘Yes!’ Long applause. ‘...who has taken for himself the name Benedict XVI’. Benedict! The sixteenth? Have there been that many Benedicts? Yes, of course...
And then, in a moment, the small man, far in the distance, came onto the balcony to greet us. Many cheers! In many ways he is so familiar to those of us who live in Rome, and who have been to the Square for all the rites of the death and burial of our beloved John Paul. It’s an amazing transformation from ‘just’ a Cardinal, to Pope...
No more Cardinal Ratzinger. Now he is Pope Benedict XVI. We tried out the sound of the name on our mouths and our ears. A good name. A beautiful name. One of the patrons of Europe. The original Benedict was the father of western monasticism: he laid the foundations for the religious men and women who saved Europe from collapse after the fall of the western empire in the sixth century. Benedict’s monasteries thrived as centres of culture.
We understood immediately: our new pope has stepped over all the political and ecclesial connotations of the recent names Pius, John, Paul, and the John Pauls. He is perhaps leading us back to his peacemaker predecessor Benedict XV who took office in 1914. We need the graces and holiness that Saint Benedict brought to the Christian church. Now we have a Pope who will highlight these spiritual values for us. All culture continually needs redeeming. We have great aspirations for our new Benedict.
"After the great Pope John Paul II..."
Pope Benedict spoke in Italian to us, from the heart. He immediately cited his beloved predecessor: ‘After the great Pope John Paul II’ — we clapped and cheered loudly — ‘the Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord’. These words came from his heart, and they match what I already know of him: he is a deeply good and holy priest, quite a shy man. He loves God very much, and has a strong devotion to our blessed Mother, whom he invoked at the end: ‘The Lord will help us, and Mary, his most holy Mother, will stand on our side’ (or: ‘at our side’).
After staying a little longer with us, to smile, and wave, he gave us his first papal blessing. And we were left to continue the celebration without him. Some of the young people quickly found a new chant (as we can’t continue with "Gio-VAN-ni PAO-lo"): "BE-ne-DET-to, BE-ne-DET-to!". As long as we have a Pope’s name that can be sung, the youth are happy!
No one seemed to want to leave the piazza. Dozens of thousands of people stayed there, even into the darkness of Tuesday night, to talk, and laugh, and pray, and take pictures of each other. I saw one man singing Bach-Gounod’s Ave Maria in a loud, beautiful voice. It was just his personal act of thanksgiving.
We found countrymen from our different nations, and gathered under flags that people had brought along to meet and talk. I was delighted to find South Africans I know and others I didn’t know gathered under our flag. Even when the main piazza lights were put out around 8pm, people stayed on!
In an incredible show of preparedness, a special edition of the Vatican daily newspaper, Osservatore Romano, hit the streets (and the piazza) not more than an hour after the election was made! (They had apparently prepared numerous possible newspapers, depending on who might be elected).
Those who know him know better
And this morning, Wednesday, Pope Benedict celebrated Holy Mass in the Sistine Chapel, where the Cardinals had met to elect him. We watched on TV. It was in Latin, with readings in Italian. No sermon. Just a long quiet moment of reflection. Many Cardinals seemed deep in prayer. After Mass, Pope Benedict addressed the Cardinals, but also all brothers and sisters in Christ, picking up many themes from our beloved and holy John Paul II: the year of the Eucharist, the ministry of priests everywhere, dialogue and unity with all Christian peoples, the youth and in particular the upcoming World Youth Day.
And then today, all the media ‘talking heads’ began... Lots of people have things to say about Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict our pope. Many people feel they know him through media portrayals of him. It is clear to me that many of the people who feel they know him really do not. One cannot assess a man, any man, reasonably and fully, from what is said about him in the media, a media that reflects a wide range of interest groups, many not seeking the same goals as the Christian church. And Cardinal Ratzinger, or Pope Benedict, is much much more than some of the reductionist interpretations given in the 1980s, and perpetuated beyond. He is a man who has touched many people’s lives in Rome, lay and religious, and beyond Rome, and all the ones I have met who know him are convinced of his goodness and holiness.
Benedict will not be another John Paul II, and I’m sure he won’t try to be. He’s his own man, although he will certainly be close to the legacy of John Paul, as he worked with him for so long. And we are utterly convinced that he will be a holy and faithful pope, as he has always been a holy and faithful priest.
Spirit of God, thank you for a new shepherd. Mother, take perfect care of him.
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