It is hard to express the immense emotions that filled my heart when I passed by St Peter’s square on April 13th and saw the white smoke coming out of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. Witnessing the Pope election wasn’t the purpose of my trip to Rome, and yet that was the part that made it incredible.
My mom and I arrived in St. Peter around 6.30 PM of a rainy Wednesday afternoon. The sky was getting dark, my boots were soaked with rain, and my mom’s mood was high as I kept coughing and sneezing. But the day had been great, so we stopped by the square hoping for some more good luck. Honestly, we never thought we could see the white smoke at our very first attempt, since this usually takes up to a few days. We found a spot under the colonnade, so at least we wouldn’t get wetter, and I fought for some space with a French girl who was fierce and quite determined to have more square inches than needed all for herself. But again, the pain was worth it. We waited until 7.10, and when the smoke appeared out of the chimney of the conclave room the first thing that came to my mind was that sometimes the color can be confusing, as it looks grey more than white or black. By the seconds my doubts vanished and reality became clear---the white cloud grew bigger and bigger, people started screaming (my mom right into my left ear!) and the Catholic Church had a new Pope.
Almost an hour passed between the smoke and his appearance. An hour filled with great hopes for the future. Nobody knew the new Pope’s name yet, and people were guessing, talking and gesturing excitedly to strangers and whoever was around. Would he be from Europe again or from another continent? Would this Pope warm young hearts just like John Paul II? Would he give us words that we will always remember and pass on to the future generations like Pope John XXIII? His speeches were poetic, sweet, simple, and yet contained innovative elements. I wasn’t born in 1962, but the words he pronounced at the opening of the council are still famous and precious: “Returning home, you will find children. Give a caress to them and say: this is the caress of the Pope. You will find some tears to dry, so say a good word: the Pope is with us, especially in times of sadness and bitterness.”
As Pope Francis started talking from St. Peter’s balcony, it was evident from the very beginning that he will be no traditional Pope, and this couldn’t make people happier in such time of crisis. His name did the rest. Francis explained later that his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, “teaches us profound respect for the whole of creation and the protection of our environment, which all too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.” He also said his family’s international roots---his parents were born in Italy and then moved to Argentina---means that the “dialogue between places and cultures a great distance apart matters greatly to me.” As simple as he seems to be, Pope Francis even surprised the owner of a newsstand in Buenos Aires with a phone call to explain that he will no longer need a morning paper delivered every day. All good signs that we may eventually have some good surprises in the future.
Mom and I strolled happily back to our hotel, floating among a crowd of pushing people with smiles on our faces. Part of me feels turned on by this event---lately my faith has been kind of latent. At the end of April I will be going to Jerusalem with my husband, and what was planned as an exciting trip in a land we have never seen and we have only heard about is slowly becoming in my intentions an opportunity to discover the deep roots of my religion.
What was meant as a nice trip to our country capital definitely ended with a pleasant surprise, and filled my heart with hope and new blessings. More pictures from Rome on www.alicepluswonderland.blogspot.com.