I will not forget the events of yesterday any time soon. It was simply remarkable...
Luckily, this semester I don't have class Wednesday mornings, so I figured I would go down to the square for the smoke at noon. I stayed in my room studying for the rest of the morning. I was pretty disappointed when I was on my way to the square at 11:45 to see people coming back to the college. The black smoke came about 20 minutes earlier then we were expecting. So I just turned around and went back to the college for lunch. After lunch I checked my email and was excited to find out that my professor had cancelled our class that evening. In hindsight that was a really great idea. Although I still had to go to the Angelicum in the afternoon in order to pray at our perpetual adoration chapel since I have the hour before class on every Wednesday. After some time of prayer at the university, I took the bus back to the square to see if there would be any mid-afternoon smoke. But sure enough, there wasn't. I was really shocked by how full the square was for so early in the evening when smoke would not be expected until later.
Around 6 o'clock I walked back to the NAC to pray Vespers with the rest of the community. The rector had moved the time up for Evening Prayer so that we could get to the square each evening to watch for smoke. Remembering that in the morning the smoke was 20 minutes early, I left directly from the chapel to go to the square with a small umbrella and a jacket. The weather these last few days has been cold and rainy, not really ideal for standing outside. I weaved my way, along with a few other guys, through the maze of umbrellas until I thought I was sufficiently close enough. I really didn't have high expectations for white smoke. While we were waiting it began to rain again. As the time passed and it got closer and closer to 7 o'clock I began to wonder if maybe tonight would be the night. I joked with the seminarian next to me that I hoped there would be white smoke and then we wouldn't have to go to choir practice. . .
Sure enough we didn't have choir practice that night. Once the smoke started to come out the whole crowd took a collective gasp, waited and then I heard shouts: Bianca! E' Bianca! I closed my umbrella and ducked down and just dashed towards the front barrier. I knew that there would be a mad rush and that I had better get a head start. Sure enough the entire crowd took a collective step forward. The crowd went from being rather sparse to an intense density. I could barely breath and feared and umbrella was going to poke my eye out. But these concerns barely entered into my mind. All I thought was how I couldn't believe that it was white smoke and that I was really in St. Peter's square. The white smoke was confirmed when the bells started ringing. Even the biggest bell rang with its deep bass sound. There was so much excitement. No one seemed to notice that it was still raining and that without our umbrellas we were getting little wet.
Then began what seemed to me to be the longest wait of my life. It was only about an hour, but after the crowd calmed down we were all just standing there waiting. The Swiss Guard came out in full uniform and also a marching band. They played some music to help welcome the new Pope and make the time pass quickly. The anticipation was so thick. So also was the the spirit of prayer. Several times the people around me began signing and praying for our new Holy Father. It was just hard to wrap my mind around what was happening. It all just seemed so surreal.
Then the Cardinal Deacon came out and pronounced the name of the new Pope. It happened so quickly and everyone just sort of stood there and looked around. The Italian lady next to me just kept saying how she was too short to see and too old to hear well. She turned to me and asked, "Chi?" "Who?". I didn't hear the announcement well enough to know the name, but I did hear "Franciscum" The crowd just buzzed for a moment as the news set in and then there were shouts of "Viva il Papa" and "Francesco". We all just sort of stood there for what seemed like forever until the curtains parted and we saw the cross bearer coming forth. The crowd went crazy as we all leaned forward to catch a glimpse of our new Pope. Pope Francis came forth and sort of just stood there. The crowd sort of took another collective breath, and then he started to speak. You all saw it on TV I'm sure. But the impact of his words in person were powerful. He started out so meekly and humbly when he said "Buona Sera" (Good Evening). The lady next to me exclaimed, "Poverino" which in Italian is a very endearing word that basically means 'Poor little guy'. The whole address was absolutely stunning. I don't know if you noticed on TV, but when he asked us to pray for him in silence the entire square was completely silent. I had never heard a silence like that in my life. It was so moving. He came out and the first thing he did was teach us to pray.
After the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing, Pope Francis said a few closing remarks which won the hearts of everyone there. He wished us a good night and a good rest in the most familial and fatherly way. It was the sort of language a grandfather would use with his grandchildren before going to bed. After the the Holy Father turned around and went back inside. I sort of just stood there for a minute trying to process the whole experience. There really aren't any words...
I made my way back to the college. As soon as I got back, I went to the chapel to help with the preparations. I changed the altar clothes from purple to gold and set out a few extra candles. A few minutes later, once the whole college had gathered we ran the bells and the rector led us in thanksgiving prayers in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The deacon read the passage from St. Matthew's gospel where Jesus says to Peter, "You are Peter...". We then joined in singing the Te Deum. It was such a great way to stop for a moment in do what Pope Francis so humbly asked us to do, to pray for him.
We then all went to the lunch to celebrate. It was long though until we heard the american cardinals would be arriving back at the NAC. So we lined up and waited for them. As each cardinal arrived we cheered for him by chanting his name. It must have been a bit abrupt to go from the prayerful silence of the Sistine Chapel to a line of rowdy seminarians cheering. It was good to see them all back safe and sound in the college. I sat in on Cardinal Dolan's press conference. As always, he had some really good things to say. By that point I was tired. It was already past midnight. I knew that I couldn't go to bed without calling my mom. So I called her and filled her in on the whole experience.
Needless to say the whole experience yesterday has left a deep impression on me. I thought of you all yesterday as I was waiting in the square. I did my best to represent the Diocese of Gaylord in those historic moments. God bless and thanks for all the prayers.