For some reason this morning, I woke early, around 5.10 and with an odd sense of anticipation… as I thought about what I had to do during the day, I turned on my phone and went to Facebook.
There it was – ‘White smoke’… Two simple words which the entire Church had been waiting for. When? I thought, wondering if the news was hours old and I had missed the momentous event. The post said ‘a minute ago’, so I turned on the television, saw the white smoke confirmed, and at 5.15 am local time, posted to the news to the CathNews Facebook page.
This was the election of the first Pope in the social media era, and Facebook and Twitter was full of the news of the election, and anticipation of the name of the new Pope being revealed.
Tension built between the time of the smoke, and the time when the doors overlooking St Peter’s Square, glistening in the evening gloom, were opened. The Cardinal Proto-Deacon, the French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, began: ‘Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus papam! (I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope!)”. He then announced the name – again, still in Latin – of the elected Cardinal.
Cardinal Tauran got to what was George in English and for a second I thought the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney had been elected… but he went on to name the Argentinian who was thought to have been runner up in the last Papal election – Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Then Cardinal Tauran announced the name the new Pope had chosen – Francis. I had never been so pleased to have suffered through all those Latin classes at school – at 6.15am I tentatively shared the name with the CathNews Facebook readers.
Then he arrived on the balcony, this Jesuit who is the son of an Italian migrant to Argentina. His manner was calm and collected, his dress (given the usually elaborate nature of Papal vestments) seemed almost simple.
And why not, given the new Pope has chosen the name of St Francis of Assisi, the most popular saint in the Catholic calendar after the Blessed Virgin Mary, and also of St Francis Xavier, one of the original soldier-members of his order, the Society of Jesus, as his Papal name. In that name, the beginning of a new era had been announced.
Pope Francis then did two things which were uncommonly sensitive and heartfelt – he first acknowledged and asked for prayers for the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, and then asked for the prayers of his audience, and their blessing on him. As he stooped to receive the benediction of the faithful, my eyes filled with tears. It was a moment full of grace, loaded with meaning - and promise.
There will be a welter of commentary about the beginning of the papacy of Francis I, stories about who he is, the challenges he faces of secularization, the decline of faith, the child abuse crisis. But in these early moments of his pontificate, before those elements have to be faced, we saw a man who has a sparkle in his eye, and who warmly addressed the crowd with a simple ‘Buona sera’ before thanking his brother Cardinals for their faith in him.
Francis I stands at a pivotal moment in time, and has a huge task ahead of him. In the leadership team meeting here at Church Resources this morning, we prayed for him in hios new role as pontiff… it is a prayer written by one of his predecessors, Leo XIII, and reminds us of the Pope's role as the visible symbol of the unity of the Church:
‘O Lord, we are the millions of believers, humbly kneeling at Thy feet and begging Thee to preserve, defend and save the Sovereign Pontiff for many years. He is the Father of the great fellowship of souls and our Father as well. On this day, as on every other day, he is praying for us also, and is offering unto Thee with holy fervor the sacred Victim of love and peace.
Wherefore, O Lord, turn Thyself toward us with eyes of pity; for we are now, as it were, forgetful of ourselves, and are praying above all for him. Do Thou unite our prayers with his and receive them into the bosom of Thine infinite mercy, as a sweet savor of active and fruitful charity, whereby the children are united in the Church to their Father. All that he asks of Thee this day, we too ask it of Thee in unison with him.
Whether he weeps or rejoices, whether he hopes or offers himself as a victim of charity for his people, we desire to be united with him; nay more, we desire that the cry of our hearts should be made one with his. Of Thy great mercy grant, O Lord, that not one of us may be far from his mind and his heart in the hour that he prays and offers unto Thee the Sacrifice of Thy blessed Son. At the moment when our venerable High Priest, holding in His hands the very Body of Jesus Christ, shall say to the people over the Chalice of benediction these words: "The peace of the Lord be with you always," grant, O Lord, that Thy sweet peace may come down upon our hearts and upon all the nations with new and manifest power. Amen.’
May God bless him always, and may he be supported by the whole Church in carrying out his role.
Christine Hogan is the Publisher of faith-based communication for Church Resources, and moderates the discussion boards of CathNews.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.