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Pondering on the Papal Transition of 2013 from Rome

April 3, 2013

On February 11, 2013 I woke up at my aunt’s house in London, I was to fly back to Rome that night after having spent a few days there relaxing after finals. In the morning I went to Mass and then thought I’d swing by the English language Catholic book store to see if they had any of the books I’d need for second semester.

Then everything changed. I was in the bookstore when I overheard a customer tell an employee he just heard on the radio the Pope is resigning. I froze in shock, did a double take, listened closer. There was a part of me that doubted him, but another part, deeper in my heart that felt this was true. So I quickly made my purchase and rushed back to my aunt’s house to turn on the news.

The emotions of those first few hours and days were so varied and intense. In particular I remember that Ash Wednesday, February 13th, about which I have already shared my reflections on this blog and in the diocesan newspaper.

Those first few days were just “Phase 1” of these past seven weeks. This is what I think of as the “announcement phase.

Phase 2: The waiting game

After Ash Wednesday, there were the final two Sunday Angelus prayers of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Those experiences very similar to the first few days in that they were intense, but they were just serving as the bridge to the final hours of Pope Benedict’s papacy. Overall these two weeks were some what of a down time. It was the calm before the storm. This was the time for the significance and reality of everything to begin to sink into our minds and hearts.

Phase 3: Saying Goodbye

After the few weeks of preparation it was time to actually say goodbye. This goodbye would take roughly 36 hours. It began on the morning of Wednesday February 27 when I got up to attend Pope Benedict’s final public appearance, his last Wednesday General Audience.

I am joined by Msgr. Cox and Dcn. Doke at the last General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI

I am joined by Msgr. Cox and Dcn. Doke at the last General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI

I was very fortunate at the time to have my pastor, Msgr. David Cox in town for a sabbatical program. Therefore, we were able to go together along with Deacon Jason Doke. Being able to attend such an important event with two great men from my diocese made the day all the more special.

In particular, what I reflected on at the time, and still remember is the experience of the universality of the Church. Certainly, every Sunday at the Angelus or any other Papal event, this is on full display and always most noticeable through the dozens of different flags seen in the square. However, on this occasion, that universality was all the more palpable, perhaps it was just the heightened emotions brought on by the significance of the event, or perhaps the beautiful ecclesiological discourse given by Pope Benedict.

The universities cancelled classes that morning, but it’s pretty safe to say that we still learned quite a lot.

The next day, Thursday was the last of Pope Benedict’s nearly eight year pontificate. In general I recall a somewhat somber mood that day. We had the full slate of classes in the morning but my mind was more focused on the moment.

In the afternoon it was time for the final goodbye. We are blessed with a location very close to the Vatican and just happens to be in the flight path between the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo. In fact in the past the we had seen the Pope fly overhead on his way to and from Castel Gandolfo. Obviously, this time was different.

Waving goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI

Waving goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI

There must have been over 200 of us who all gathered on our rooftop terrace, all armed with cameras, flags and signs. In some sense it was a very simple moment, a bunch of people on the roof and a helicopter flying overhead. Though, however simple it might have been, it was definitely a somber and memorable moment.

Every Thursday evening at 8:00 PM, we have something called “Formation Night.” On that particular evening we were learning about the Ministry of Acolyte, which we received the following Sunday.

8:00 PM Rome time was also the official begining of the Sede Vacante. So the talk that evening began with prayer as usual, but it had a different tone and a different realty began to hit when we prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide the Cardinals in the election of a new Supreme Pontiff.

Phase 4: The General Congregations

This is when things very quickly shifted from somber to exciting. During this time all of the American cardinals stayed with us and it seemed as if there was a constant shuffling about. We were still going to our classes, but there was definitely a buzz or excitement in the air.

It was during this period that all of the nearly 6,000 accredited journalists arrived to cover these historic times.

Given my past work in journalism, I offered to help the College’s Media Relations Director, Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill. I helped facilitate different interviews etc. It was also during this time that I myself was interviewed by CBS Evening News along with two others from the College.

Participating in that interview was an experience all by itself. They followed us around for a few days filming different aspects of our lives, and then finally the interview aired the night before the beginning of the Conclave.

It was also during this time that I had the opportunity to meet up with a few former colleagues. I really appreciated the opportunity to both catch up personally, but also to hear about their thoughts and perspectives on all that was going on at the time and the state of the Church in general. I believe that it is very good for me as a seminarian to listen to and understand how it is that others see the Church and the world, so that I might be able to present the Church to the world in an even more effective manner.

The excitement of these times made me fondly remember my time working as a journalist. I was quite excited and there was definitely a part of me that wanted to be filing reports etc.

However, there was also a great sense of peace, that now, four years after entering seminary, I am where I’m supposed to be and doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Though my vocation story was not included in the final cut, let me share what I told the reporter.

“It came to a point where I had to ask myself, was I running for a successful career in religion journalism? Or was I running from God, from the priesthood?”

Obviously, I came to a realization it was more the later than the former.

Now I can say what a great joy it is when one runs to God instead of from God.

What a great joy it is to use those same gifts not for the building up of my own self, my own career, but rather for God and the Church.

Phase 5: Conclave

This was it, it was finally time to elect a new Pope. It ended up being much shorter than so many predicted, but it was definitely an intense 36 hours or so.

It began with the early morning “clap-out” for the Cardinals. Then we were off to the Mass of the Holy Spirit for the beginning of the Conclave. Though not always the case for Papal events, this time a majority of the NAC seminarians were all able to sit together underneath the statue of St. Veronica very close to the Baldacchino.

With Mass over, it was time to start watching smoke, snd yes, for those wondering, I did make a few jokes about not using our BBQ Smoker during the Conclave.

There are three distinct things I remember about the smoke watching experience.

1) There was a great anticipation in the air, it was as if anticipation was no longer a verb, no longer an action, but rather it was now a state of being, it was an emotion, and one that was certainly shared by all.

2) It was raining, a lot.

3) Even though it was raining, there were a ton of people. You had to get to the square early not because they might burn the ballots earlier than announced, but just to get a space in the square.

At one point a reporter asked me why I thought there were so many people gathered in there in the Square.

I responded, “because this is very place St. Peter gave his life for the faith, the same faith that we share, and so we’ve come to see the election of his successor. For the Pope is not only the Universal Pastor of the Church, the leader of Catholics all over the world, the Bishop of Rome, but he is also the successor of Peter.”

Phase 6: Habemus Papam

The morning of March 13th I had my annual faculty evaluation. After it went well, I asked one of my closest friends if he wanted to go out for dinner to celebrate. The plan was to go down to the square for the black smoke at 7:00 PM and then go grab a bite to eat.

At 7:05 PM white smoke happened.

Waiting for the big announcement

Waiting for the big announcement

Everyone started screaming and running forward, somehow what felt like a Square full of people all squeezed forward, moving from what Americans might call a reasonable concept of, “personal space,” to a much more Italian mindset in which the former is at best a vague notion and generally non-existent.

Thus we all remained packed in “like a can of Sardines,” as some people say, until 8:12 PM when Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, came out onto the Loggia and said,

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum;
habemus Papam:

Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum,
Dominum Georgium Marium
Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Bergoglio
qui sibi nomen imposuit Franciscum

Then Pope Francis came out and greeted us with his now somewhat trademark, “Buona Sera.”

The most powerful moment that from the many I’ve talked to was somewhat if not completely lost on television was the moment when Pope Francis asked us to pray for him in silence. The square had only been getting louder and louder as many people came from all over town once there was white smoke. Then, at the very instant he asked for quiet, it got exceptionally quiet. A very moving experience of silent prayer with a couple hundred thousand others.

I thought, what a great continuity of humility. Pope Benedict ended his papacy by stepping aside was a great act of humility, and now, Pope Francis was beginning his papacy with a great act of humility in asking for our prayers.

After Pope Francis’ first blessing I ran back up the hill in order to greet all the journalists who came to interview the Cardinals. After the Cardinals had dinner with Pope Francis, they arrived up on the hill around 11:30 PM and began press conferences and interviews right away. They stayed until 1:30 AM when I was finally able to go to bed. Thankfully, the Rector moved our community Mass to the evening the next day.

One of the more joyous events of the evening was when my fellow seminariwns spontanously formed a “clap-in” for the Cardinals when they returned.

Beyond the moment of prayer, the big picture take away from the evening was just realizing I had been present for the announcement. This was something that I had seen replayed in countless videos and photos of past elections. However, this time I didn’t see it through some other medium, but I was actually present myself, what a blessing.

Phase 7: Papal Installation

March 19th is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of Mary and Patron of the Universal Church. What a beautiful occasion to hold the Mass of Installation of Petrine Ministry for Pope Francis.

Monday afternoon, we received a phone call asking for all the non-ordained seminarians to help with the Mass by serving as communion ushers. 10 of us volunteerred to be the “capi.” Given my work as the capo of the St. Peter’s Apostolate, I became the leader of our group. So we went to a meeting with the Papal MC’s and got all the instructions. I then designed a system to help get us all down there, and in position to help.

The next morning the weather was beautiful, and the Mass even more so. We were fortunate to have very nice seats for the parts when we weren’t helping. Most especially I was very grateful that we all had the opportunity to participate in this historic event, even if only in some small way.

Check out some great photos from the Mass on the PNAC Flickr page.

Phase 8: Triduum

I feel as if no reflection on these weeks would be complete without including the Triduum. After a few days of reflection and recovery in Pontoise at the Carmel, I returned to Rome for the Triduum.

On Holy Thursday I attended the Chrism Mass in the morning, the great thing about this Mass is watching the 1,600 priests process into the Basilica, as it’s the only Papal Mass all year any and every Priest is allowed to concelebrate. It’s an inspiring sight to behold, especially for one striving for the priesthood such as myself.

In the evening, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in a prison, so I went with a classmate to a local celebration of the Last Supper.

Both Friday and Saturday I worked at the Visitor’s Office in the morning, always an exciting and moving ministry.

Friday afternoon was primarily spent with my good friends, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. First I attended the Service of the Lord’s Passion at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, an old Roman basilica where the relics of the true Cross are kept. The Basilica was standing room only.

The most powerful part of the Liturgy took place during the procession with the Cross, and the Priest chanted, “Behold the Wood of the Cross on which hung the Salvation of the World.”

After the celebration the junior professed sisters and I went over to the Colosseum for the Via Crucis. This year the reflections were prepared by some Lebanese youth, they were very well done.

Saturday and Sunday I attended the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Masses with Pope Francis. Both were impressive and solemn celebrations.

The reason why I felt it was important to include the Triduum in this reflection is that the Triduum has helped to serve as my introduction to Pope Francis. These have been great opportunities to learn from him through his homilies. Allowing him to help form me to become a better priest through his humble example of words and deeds.

Now it is time to move on, always filled with gratitude and joy.

Gratitude for the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

Gratitude for the gift of Pope Francis

The Joy of Easter, that Christ is Risen!

The joy of knowing that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide the Church.

Amen.

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