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Perspective from the Piazza: Bishop Francis of Rome

The only problem with being in Piazza San Pietro for the announcement and presentation of the new bishop of Rome is that the cell networks and internet access all jam. Maybe I can reconstruct the impressions and my perspective from Rome tonight, as they came as pithily as possible:

[c.18:30] – just finished giving a conversational English lesson. Pretty sure there will be black smoke in half an hour. Maybe I should run over there anyway? Nah… I’ll just miss the smoke, it’s wet, and I’ve got work to do.

[c.18:50] – hm. I think Philippa Hitchen is on Vatican Radio, they should have the chimney on livecam. At least I can say I saw the black smoke ‘from a distance’ tonight if anyone asks. Heh heh.

[18:52] – a seagull on the chimney, says Msgr. Mark Langham on Facebook. Kinda reminds me of that ND game where the squirrel took to the field sophomore year…

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[19:06] – working on editing a friend’s article. Smoke! Hm… looks pretty dark grey. Really dark… e’ nero? E’ bianco? E’ nero. Maybe go back to editing… ok, one last look. Still grey… hey, is that bell moving? [commentator: “looks pretty grey, but wait, the bells!”]. Elected on the fifth ballot?? I thought it would be tomorrow at the earliest! This is only one more than Ratzinger.

[19:07] – knocking on doors. “Habemus papam!” start ringing our bell.

[19:08] – I’m going down there, now. Anyone wants to join me, I’m taking a taxi.

[c.19:20] – five of us went, after waiting forever (five minutes) for some people to change. Halfway to the cab stand, three jumped on the 81. Alex and I got in a cab. At about 19.40, near Chiesa Nuova, we see a group from the Russicum walking by, and we decided to ditch the traffic and join them.

[c.19:50] – arrive in Piazza San Pietro, someone in the group knows one of the security guys and we get into the square, all the way up to the obelisk. I’m wedged between U.S. college students from New York, an Italian sister with a robust singing voice, three Eastern Catholics and a prolific contributor to the New Liturgical Movement.

[time ceases to have meaning]

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Cardinal Protodeacon Tauran: Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: habemus Papam!
People of God: wild cheering and applause
Cardinal Tauran: Eminentissimum ac reverendissimum dominum, dominum Georgium
Me: Giorgio? George… maybe George Alencherry, the Syro-Malabar Major Archbishop?
Cardinal Tauran: Sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ Cardinalem Bergoglio qui sibi nomen imposuit Franciscum.
People of God: Huh? Who? – polite applause, much checking of smart phones –
Me: Bergoglio? Which one was he? Italian? Pope Francis? Assisi or Xavier? or both? Can I be cautiously optimistic?
Overheard nearby: Francis? *shudder* That’s not good: All innovation is BAD.

Pope Francis appears a short time later, my impressions:

Hm. Almost nobody seems to recognize him. I remember being told the second election of 1978 was like this, the piazza was almost silent. Nobody knew Wojtyla, and they do not know Bergoglio, apparently. From Argentina, according to someone with web-access…

He reminds me of Papa Luciani, John Paul I, for some reason. Someone nearby says he looks like Pius XI. Simple, severe maybe, but simple. Am I smiling?

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“Buona Serra”? Simple, good start…

“bishop emeritus of Rome Benedict…” how much better that sounds than Pontifex emeritus! Could we have an ecclesiologist pope?

His inclusive language seems to offend the more traditional minded among us…

That’s “bishop of Rome” at least three times now. Not pope, not pontificate, but bishop, bishop of Rome. Be still, my ecclesiologist’s beating heart! I think I really am smiling!

He seems so… humble. Almost awkward, these pregnant pauses, but I get the feeling he really did not expect to be there. Not an actor, not a professor… a pastor? A reformer? An introvert? Not sure what it means.

You know… Marini has not looked up from his shoes this entire time. In fact, he looks a little, um, how do I put this…

“He looks like he’s updating his CV, A.J., that’s what he looks like…”

I think he just said, “before a bishop blesses the people, the people should bless – that is, pray for – the bishop. so, I invite you to pray for me, as we start this journey together.”

“Buona notte!” – I cannot get over how refreshing his simplicity is, his somewhat akward honesty, and I do keep being reminded of Luciani. Francis, indeed. 😀

As we began to leave the Piazza, I ran into a Jesuit friend who supplied some details and reflections of his own: He’s Jesuit! He’s from Buones Aires. He said some very promising things tonight – his choice of name, the ecclesiological awareness of focus on the “bishop of Rome” rather than “universal pastor” or “supreme pontiff”, etc. But, a hesitation: “he brought some division to the Jesuits in Argentina; some see him as too conservative. Personally austere, yes, simple, yes, but we shall see”…

So, in summary: First Francis. First Jesuit. First from the Western Hemisphere. First non-European bishop of Rome in almost 1300 years (Gregory III from Syria). Chose a casual, informal greeting. Asked for the blessing of the assembly before he offered his own, and bowed to receive it from us. Clearly knows the pope is first and fundamentally the “bishop of Rome” (and the pope emeritus is really the bishop emeritus of Rome). He chose the simplest of the vestment options in which to appear (no lace, wooden pectoral cross) He will spend his first day visiting a shrine of Our Lady. He took his name in honor of Francis of Assisi, perhaps the most universally accessible saint we have, known for humility, care of creation and the poor, dialogue with Islam, and “rebuilding” a corrupt and failing Church. I think as we left the Piazza, most people still had no idea who had been elected – or perhaps they were just in a sort of joyful shock, the kind you get when something you have wanted for so long seems to be coming true, but you are not sure whether to believe it or not.

And, well, one of the guys I was with posted this when he got home tonight:

“Re, Sandri, Hummes and Kasper [sic] were on the balcony with him as he winged his way through the appearance. Traddies, get ready to bury your cassocks and black covered liturgical books in the yard.”

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3 Comments

  1. Anita Betschart says:

    Hi AJ, I’m so jealous! Wish I was there. Also glad that you have this blog and are on Facebook to give us first hand updates. Thank you. Hugs, “Mom” Anita

    Sent from my iPad

  2. […] marks the second anniversary of the election of Pope Francis as bishop of Rome. They have been, without question, the two most hope-filled years in a lifetime of study and […]

  3. […] seemed to be clear, we may recall, when suddenly it was not. But then it was, at least to the new […]

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