What a day yesterday was indeed. History at its best! Of course, it was rather challenging to actually watch the events unfold on the screen but thankfully, it happened. I had 2 parishioners I needed to visit yesterday: one at 2PM and one at 3PM. I arrived promptly at 2PM to enjoy a visit with an elderly parishioner. No sooner had I sat down, my cell phone began to ring. It was the hospital calling informing me that I would need to return and make a visit to the Emergency Department as there was a patient who was “actively dying.” (One of my personal favorite phrases!) I apologized and informed my elderly friend that I would be back in 20 minutes (it was more like 30). In any event, as I was rushing to the ED, I was forced to take a rather lengthy route as I had forgotten my badge which grants me access to all sorts of places. As I was running through the mezzanine, I glanced at a TV screen and saw the much-anticipated “white smoke” billowing from the Sistene Chapel chimney. I administered the Sacrament of the Sick and then tried to scurry out of the ED but of course, everyone wanted to ask if I had heard about the smoke. Finally, I got into my car and tuned into CNN. Indeed, it was white smoke. My cellphone was abuzz with activity. Friends from the USA and Europe were calling asking if I had heard: White Smoke! Do people think that I live under a rock? I returned to resume my visit and informed my parishioner that a new Pope had been elected. Fortunately, she, too, was excited and so, our visit would take on a different feeling. We moved into a smaller room where a TV would soon reveal to us, the identity of the new Pontiff. The audio feed was awful. “Did he just say George,” I was asked. “I think so,” was my response. George? Cardinal Pell from Australia? No! His name is Francis? A Franciscan? But he said “George.” And then, it was all revealed. A stunned and shocked and scared Pope Francis soon emerged onto the balcony. As I looked at him I could see the overwhelming responsibility which he had accepted just an hour ago weigh heavily upon him. As the crowd expressed their support, Pope Francis seemed to relax. His impeccable command of the Italian language and his gentle smile seemed to convey a true pastor who was speaking to his people.
News reports and outlets are now consumed with Francis’s election. What does this mean for the Church? How will the new Pope change the Church? Lots of unknowns, my friends, but one thing is certain: we have a new spiritual leader who will guide us and lead us to knowing the love and mercy of God. Pray for Pope Francis. Pray that the challenges he faces will not overwhelm him. Pray that he will always turn to the guidance of the Spirit when the weight of the Keys weigh him down. Ad multos annos Papa Francesco!