Father Jim McCormack, MIC
Viva il Papa!
The view of our newly elected Pope, from Fr. Jim's perspective.
By Fr. Jim McCormack, MIC (Mar 21, 2013)
Several have asked me, "Were you there?" (i.e., for the announcement on March 13 of our new Holy Father, Pope Francis). Yes, thankfully, I was. And how it came about that I could be there was quite providential.
The Marian General House, where I live, is on the east side of Rome. The school where I am pursuing a Licentiate degree in the Consecrated Life is rather far away, on the west side. The Vatican is between the two.
The morning of the election, I took the metro from home to St. Peter's, saw the black smoke around noon and then jumped back on the metro to continue on to school. I had classes in the afternoon, and at about 7 p.m., I was again on the metro, now heading back into the city.
I was considering stopping at the Vatican again to see the last smoke signal of the day. But, it was raining and a little cold, and I was also thinking that it would be unlikely for the pope to be elected so soon. Therefore, I was mostly resolved to continue going past the Vatican and simply return home. But someone near me was watching the news on his smartphone with the volume high enough that I caught some words like "chiesa" and "piazza." So I asked him if there was any news, and, sure enough, he showed me the live feed of white smoke billowing out of the chimney above the Sistine Chapel.
At that point, we were still a few stops before the Vatican, so when we arrived, I jumped out and ran, along with many others, to the Piazza San Pietro. I was there early enough to find a good spot near the obelisk in the center of the piazza before Pope Francis was announced and appeared on the balcony.
At first, no one knew who he was. Some said he was from Brazil, others said from Argentina. But when he spoke, what was immediately apparent was that he is a deeply humble man and a man of deep prayer. I was moved by how he invited everyone present (physically and via other modes of communication) to pray ... first for Benedict XVI and then for himself.
Perhaps most moving of all was finding myself among 300,000 people all praying together the Hail Mary (and an Our Father and a Glory Be). It was as if all of us there present, representing in a sense the people of the whole world, suddenly put aside all of the thoughts and opinions about politics, the economy, and the Church, and instead, for a moment, did the most fundamental and most needed thing of all: We prayed.
I should mention, too, that it had been raining lightly on and off before the announcement, but by the time the new pope appeared on the balcony, the rain had completely stopped, and by the end of his address, the clouds had parted and stars were visible above St. Peter's.
The Italians I spoke with are surprisingly happy with the new pope. One might think that they would prefer an Italian pope, but they seem to be happy that Pope Francis is very down to earth and also an "outsider" and seemingly "unpolitical."
I was also very impressed by Pope Francis' first day.
You may have caught some of the stories, but here are some of the highlights:
• Thursday morning (the morning after the election), his first stop was St. Mary Major where he prayed and presented some flowers beneath a famous icon of Our Lady. Instead of taking the Mercedes that was waiting for him, he opted for a more simple sedan.
• On the way back, he stopped at the place at which he had stayed before the Conclave to pick up some luggage and to pay his bill.
• In the afternoon, during Mass with the Cardinals, he gave his homily with no notes and gave a simple and beautiful message based on the readings, saying that his hope for all is to "walk, build and witness" — that is, to walk with Christ and His Cross, to build up the Church made of us Christians as living stones. There, he is making a reference not only to 1 Pt 2:5 but also, presumably, to St. Francis of Assisi, whom God called to "rebuild My Church." Additionally, Pope Francis is calling upon us to witness always to Christ Crucified and the Blood that He shed.
Just from these initial experiences, Pope Francis seems to be truly holy and courageous. And I'm so grateful that, against all expectations and predictions, he was chosen to be our pope. Viva il papa!