Thursday, March 14, 2013

Last hurrah

So, there I was, sitting in the office about 7 o'clock, transcribing a video for a story with the headphones on. At five past seven, I thought I had better go down to the Piazza to watch for the smoke. When I took off the headphones I heard the bells ringing.

But it was too early, four ballots, so I still wasn't convinced until I got down to the street and saw people running.

I ran the two or three blocks to the Holy Office entrance and climbed over a barrier into the Colonnade. The cops had been stopping people today and making a half-hearted effort to check bags, but now weren't really bothering to stop anyone and a lot of people were just climbing over the railings to get into the Piazza.

I managed to push my way fairly close to the front, just to the left of the Loggia and stopped just behind a group of Eton-accented seminarians from the Venerable English College. We chatted a bit but mostly people were quiet. Some Italians sang a patriotic song for the Italian Republic, apparently unaware of the irony.

At "Habemus Papam" I fulfilled one of my lifelong Catholic wishes, and, together with 150,000 other people, punched both fists in the air and cheered, and chanted "Viva il Papa! Viva il Papa!". I suspect it will be the last time for a long time.

After that, one of the VEC boys said it all seemed surreal. It was. When the announcement came it all seemed rather perfunctory. None of the dramatic pauses. Tauran came out quickly, said the famous phrases and was gone almost before we'd had a chance to cheer.

Then came the name followed by silence. Few had understood Tauran's poorly pronounced, and slightly mumbled Latin version of it and those who did had no idea who it was. Tauran botched the papal name as well, failing to wait until the cheering had died down before speaking it quickly into the microphone, so nearly everyone around me were looking at each other saying, "Who? What was the name?" The cheering died away and the boys in front of me were clustered around one of their number with a smartphone who was talking to someone else, relaying information via the internet. (Yes, I get the irony; even the people standing in the Piazza had to consult the 'net to find out what had just been told to them directly. Is that a sign of something? Probably, but I'm too tired to speculate.)

Then we knew. Argentina. A Jesuit. 76 years old. Bergoglio. Francis "the first". But it all seemed so strange. So perfunctory and abrupt. There had been none of the drama, the pauses, the acknowledgement of the crowd's response. As though the whole business had to be got over with quickly. Before anyone had a chance to get their bearings, Tauran had gone. Some Italians tried to chant the new papal name, (which is how many of us learned what it was) but it just didn't seem to work, and the effort trickled down and died.

Then another moment and the crucifix appeared followed by a tall, erect man in white. At first glance I was reminded of Pius XII.

But again it was strange. He was in papal white, but not in choir dress. There was no apostolic stole. No red mozzetta. And he simply walked towards the railing of the Loggia and for a long moment just stood still, his arms straight at his sides. The crowd's cheering seemed to elicit no response at all. He was silhouetted against the light coming from behind the curtains and he seemed, simply, unmoved.

After his rather flat greeting, that included a joke, the only other huge cheer came at the mention of the name Benedict. After that, it was a relief to pray. A moment of silence came which was almost eerie. Have you ever been shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowd of 150,000 people and heard total silence? I'm not sure there is any experience like it. At that moment, a little thunder rolled distantly.

The VEC boys and I were the only ones to kneel for the Apostolic Blessing. Then there were a few more words, and the new pope simply turned around and left. People were left in the square for a few minutes, standing rather stunned. I'm not sure they were happy, except perhaps because the whole strange affair was over.

But I had already started working my way back through the crowd towards the Colonnade before Francis I had finished.

I've written here and elsewhere about the grave feeling of disquiet and foreboding that descended on me on the morning of February 11th. The conclave was conducted under a pall of gloom. The weather was awful. Cold, rainy, drizzly. On the morning of the Mass, it hailed.

This morning the sun was shining again. The news kiosks are piled high with Italian papers bearing the photos of a strange face, a man in white. Smiling.

Of course, there will be lots more, and I'm sure that I'll have a lot to say once the surprise wears off. But for now, all I've got is my gut, which tells me that last night was going to be the last time for a while that I will be standing in St. Peter's Piazza cheering.



Anonymous said...

I've written here and elsewhere about the grave feeling of disquiet and foreboding that descended on me on the morning of February 11th. The conclave was conducted under a pall of gloom. The weather was awful. Cold, rainy, drizzly. On the morning of the Mass, it hailed.

Hey, you didn't wake up at 3 am Eastern on the 11th, in a cold sweat, shaking and almost crying, dreaming of Satan.

Okay, kidding, sort of.

I do not know what to think of Pope Francis, except that he is apparently a man of great devotion, with a deep personal commitment to the virtue of poverty and alleviating the plight of the poor.

I worry, or perhaps hope, that this man of South America, who promises to be a missionary, will let the West rot. Perhaps the only fertile ground upon which the Church can plant seeds are those areas not infected by the progressives, and would not much care if the Church turned Her efforts elsewhere. Perhaps the West, so used to its every whim being catered to, needs that in order to come to its senses.

I'm happy that it was not Cardinal O'Malley (or any American, but particularly that one). Perhaps it is impious of me to criticise a man of the cloth, and so esteemed a man of the cloth, but I am relieved that the Pope is not a man who spoke at Ted Kennedy's funeral.


Gregory said...

Totally different from 2005, when the excitement was palpable. This time, you could feel the enthusiasm drain away as soon as Turan said....sorry, what was it he said again?

Anonymous said...

Glad your observations were the same as mine. This was surreal in that it didn't seem like we were watching history in the making but rather a poor rehearsal. We needed a momentous event, a miracle.

Now if those VEC boys had started to chant: Las Malvinas son Agentinas.... That would've been something.


FWIW: Shea already likes him

Seraphic said...

Harrow, surely.

Teresa B. said...

My husband and I were watching this. After it was over - we were not sure what Cardinal Tauran said and we commented about how fast and incoherent he was. EWTN was quiet for a bit - trying to figure out what the hey he said.
We had all the names of the cardinals written out with their latin first names. But since we had no clue what the last name was we just flipped through the Georges/Jorges. Then Dennis looks up at me and says " #%&@^!!, it's a Jesuit!" He left the room.
The excitement of the white smoke contrasted with the announcement of the name and then with Pope Francis coming out without the stole on and the little hand wave.

No red shoes in the picture I saw of him today - so I know there will be a HUGE contrast in the visual.
One thing I thought of yesterday was how long will Monsignor Guido Marini last?

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Bill, all the wrong people already like him,

are, in fact, becoming almost hysterical in their efforts to approve of him.

But suddenly for me, the papacy has ceased to be a personal institution. It has transformed in a moment into merely something I observe because I am paid to do so.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

...and poor Marini is said by everyone to be the most miserable man in Rome today.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see any of the TV reportage but the photos of his first appearance left me feeling a bit disturbed. The look in his eyes was completely blank.

I am prepared to reserve my judgment for now, but not for long.


BillyHW said...

I think it probably looked better on TV (the internet, actually) than in person.

He just seems like he has a *very* calm personality. And it did have a calming effect on me.

Wendy in VA said...

I keep hearing how jubilant the crowd was, and even how "sweet" his face seemed. I had started to think what I saw on the Internet was somehow not what everyone else saw on TV. Apparently the reality also was somehow not what everyone else saw on TV.

zz said...

To expand on my previous thoughts, I'm relieved that the Pope is a rock-ribbed pro-lifer, that he opposes SSM, and that his love for the poor does not extend into believing that we need a Christian welfare state (oxymoronic as that would be).

My biggest fear is getting a squish on issues of doctrinal importance, then elevate more doctrinal squishes, who would then elect another doctrinal squish, and therefore destroy the one remaining institution that stands firm against the cultural rot of the West.

If Pope Francis ends up being a reasonably competent placeholder Pope, I'll be happy. They can't all be superstars, and we ask that they be guided by the Holy Spirit, not all be lions of their time.

My big fear is that Pope Francis isn't an executive type, and the papacy is an executive position.


Dymphna said...

I think it's different because the situation is so weird. Benedict isn't dead. He's at his vacation home. The new pope is somebody we've never heard of before and there are apparently justifiable fears that we might lose Summorum Pontificum. Those of us who would never go to an SSPX Mass will be up the creek.

John said...

"He called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the church needs us as Anglicans."
A quote from the Anglican bishop of Argentina re: Cardinal Bergoglio. You can find it here:

I had to untie my shoes to find my heartbeat when I read that.


Dymphna said...

I don't want to be Pollyanna but maybe the Anglican was lying?

John said...

Dymphna: Looking at it through the rosiest glasses I possess: By the time I read it, the comment was at least third hand. Maybe it wasn't quite what the Cardinal said. And maybe he just meant it wasn't needed in South America. Which it probably isn't. And if he did mean that, apparently Pope Benedict agreed, since he didn't establish one for South America.

In any event, we will all eventually find out one way or the other what the Holy Father thinks about all sorts of things.