Thursday, March 14, 2013

Father Jeremy on the Day of the Election of Pope Francis

Father Jeremy Driscoll, a faculty member of Mount Angel Seminary and a monk of Mount Angel Abbey, shares his experience from the day of the election of Pope Francis.  Father Jeremy also wrote to the monastic and seminary communities after the resignation of Benedict XVI and prior to the conclave.

March 14, 2013

Dear Abbot Gregory and Conferes, Msgr. Betschart and Colleagues, Seminarians and Students,

So last evening about 7 o'clock the white smoke poured forth.  Msgr. Keven Irwin and I arrived at Cardinal Levada's house at about 5:30, and Msgr. Steve Lopes, the Cardinal's secretary, let us in.  Archbishop DiNoia was there as well.  We waited in the rain until about 6:00, knowing that the first ballot of the afternoon would be finished by that time and if there were an election, the smoke would come out.  There many people in the square waiting, most with umbrellas up.  It occurred to me that this might be some sort of world record of the most umbrellas ever opened at one time in the same place.

A maxi screen gave us a good view of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, which from where we stood was not easily seen by the naked eye.  For a long time a single sea gull sat atop the chimney, and I thought this might be another world record in the making: most seen sea gull in the world.  I suppose the news people were glad to have something to talk about during the long wait.  One of our group quipped that it was perhaps the Holy Spirit looking for a way into the conclave . . . or that he had just finished.

Surmising (correctly, as it turns out) that there had been no election, we went inside to the living room and had a snack and a lively conversation.  Meanwhile two other priests from CDF showed up, and the conversation got even more interesting.  In the other part of the house, ten young nuns from the Alma Mercy Sisters were celebrating the birthday of one of their group and also waiting for the smoke.  A little before 7 o'clock Msgr. Irwin had to leave for an interview on CNN but he said he would be back by 7:30.  Their booth was just across the street from where we were.

He was gone only about five minutes when all the nuns started screaming and running down the hall.  The smoke was white.  I started screaming too, just to make it more fun, and so we all started running down the hall and out onto the porch, making lots of noise and then once out along the railing, hugging each other and hearing the enormous roar of the crowd and the joyful ringing of the bells.  We joined the shouting and waving.  A great and joyful energy.

The rain had pretty much stopped.  There was on and off a bit of drizzle.  I knew we still had about an hour to wait, but it was a wonderful view of the piazza and we could see crowds just pouring into it.  From the other end of the terrace one can see the whole length of the Via della Conciliazione, and I would go to that end from time to time to watch hundreds and hundreds of people running down the street to fill in the piazza.  Horns were honking and bells were ringing.  Groups of people were running with national flags and shouting.  What fun.  (It was already dark, so unfortunately I wasn't able to get any good pictures.  But I couldn't have had a more privileged view of things).

More people were showing up on the Cardinal's porch.  Msgr. Lopes had been very generous in letting people in, and now Msgr. Irwin was back.  Most of the others who came were other priests who work in the various curial offices, but a small pack of Dominicans also arrived with Fr. Robert Christian.  The evening before, at dinner with Archbishop Fisichella, he had told me that a cardinal had told him that this would be a long conclave.  Most everyone thought the same.

So, most of the people on the porch, who understand these things better than I, thought that an election on the fifth ballot could only mean that it would be Cardinal Scola.  Finally, after about an hour, Cardinal Tauran came out onto the balcony to tell the waiting crowds who it would be.  I remember eight years ago the cardinal who made the announcement stretched it out with really great drama. 

Cardianal Tauran was just the opposite.  He said his lines quickly and to some extent incomprehensibly.  With his French accent saying those several Spanish names no one seemed to know what he had said.  Then he turned around and walked away.  One thing was certain: he hadn't said "Scola."  Literally, we "experts" in ecclesial affairs were all standing there saying, "Who?!" "Who?!"  The crowd knew it was supposed to cheer, but it two was at first quite silent.  But it wasn't long before folks figured out who it was.  I was completely surprised, as was everyone with me.  So much for all the talk that precedes an election.

Finally the new Pope, Francis I, came out onto the balcony, and the crowd appropriately went wild.  At first, oddly, he just stood there - none of that lifting up of the arms like you expect the pope to do.  Even looking at the maxi screen I couldn't tell what sort of expression he had.  Eventually he spoke and said simply, "Buona sera."

The rest you probably all know and have seen for yourselves.  You will know as much as I do, or as little as I do, about our new Pope and what his selection means.  I suppose our brothers from the St. John Society will be a great help in helping us to learn something about him.  In any case, of course, it's something huge and fresh to have a pope from South America, to have a Jesuit, to be called Francis, etc.

Afterwards, five of us went to dinner together.  Msgr. Lopes had wisely reserved a table in a nearby restaurant, and among the thousands of people everywhere, we were some of the lucky few able to sit down and eat and digest and celebrate together the last amazing hours.  In any case - well, my goodness.  It certainly was interesting and will be.

Pace a bene from Rome,

Father Jeremy

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