Fr. Roger J. Landry
Conclave Series for the New Bedford Standard Times
March 14, 2013
Yesterday was a long, historic and emotional day that produced the first pope from the new world — and nearly caused heart attacks and catatonic shock among Vatican experts.
I had been in St. Peter’s Square for the black smoke in the morning. I was stunned at how fast it came — in just two hours of voting, whereas in 2005, it took 3 hours per two-vote session. Whatever was going on behind the closed doors of the Sistine Chapel, the Cardinals weren’t wasting any time. I returned to St. Peter’s Square at 6 pm Rome time to watch what I thought would be more black smoke at about 6:15, but it didn’t come.
I had a live interview with Megyn Kelly of Fox News scheduled for 7 pm so I had to leave and make my way to Fox’s Rome Headquarters. When I got there I watched the chimney with Shepard Smith on a TV monitor until it was time to go on the live satellite hook-up to New York.
In the middle of the interview, Megyn called attention to the presence of smoke, noted that it looked white, and somewhat nervously asked me to confirm it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I told her that the black smoke in the two previous sessions was so dark that it would have made fumes coming from the coal stacks of Pittsburgh during the age of steel look clean by comparison. There was no ambiguity. The smoke was white. The Church and the world had a new pope.
As soon as the interview ended, I took off the microphone, ran down what seemed like 20 flights of stairs, and started to sprint toward St. Peter’s. Surrounded by a growing crowd of about 60,000 people in St. Peter’s Square, I gave a few interviews and waited with everyone else. I was convinced that if the election had happened in only five ballots, the new pope was very likely from Milan.
When Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran to announce the good news of great joy that we have a new pope, I waited as he read out the Latin formula for the new Pope’s baptismal name in the accusative case. When he said, “Georgium,” I was totally disoriented.
I raced in my mind through the “Georges” among the college of Cardinals. It was impossible, I thought, that the new pope was Cardinal George Alencherry of the Syro-Malabar Church, George Pell of Australia, or Jorge Urosa Savino of Venezuela. Jorge Bergoglio was the only other I could remember, but I thought I had to be wrong, because — even though I mentioned him among the papabili earlier in this series — I couldn’t believe that the Cardinals would elect a 76-year old to succeed Pope Benedict after only five ballots.
But what do I know?
You only get one chance to make a first impression and Pope Francis made a great one on me and the whole crowd, not just by the significance of the name he chose, but also by what he said and did.
After telling us that the Cardinals “went almost to the end of the world” to find him, the new pope immediately led us in prayer and called us to a journey of brotherhood, love, mutual trust, and prayer for the world.
Then, before he gave us his first solemn “urbi et orbi” blessing — a benediction of the city and the world — he asked us all for a “favor,” something that was really moving: to beg the Lord to bless him first. He bowed down profoundly and waited as the hushed crowd prayed accordingly in silence. After I prayed, I felt moved to give him my priestly blessing from St. Peter’s Square. Then he gave us all his.
Tomorrow I will focus more on him as a Catholic leader and examine why the Cardinals would have made such a bold, decisive and rapid choice for him.
Today, however, I’m going to go to St. Peter’s Basilica first thing in the morning and offer my first Mass for him close to the tomb of St. Peter, praying with a group of Americans here that God will indeed continue to bless him so that he, through his service as Peter’s, Benedict’s, and Francis’ successor, may bless us all.