Tuesday, April 19, 2005

MH - Habemus Papam!

Pope Benedict XVI!

I'm sorry I wasn't able to post earlier today; this was so exciting, such a great moment, I just wanted to share it with someone!

This is a great day for the Church, a great day for the world. I've been an admirer of the former Cardinal Ratzinger for many years, having long thought he would make a terrific pope. As the years slipped by and the Cardinal, along with JPII, aged, it seemed less and less likely he would be the successor. His name dropped off many of the lists produced by the "experts". But in the last few months there'd been talk; maybe it wasn't so far-fetched after all. He was six years younger than JPII, in pretty good health, and as a consensus began to form that maybe a shorter papacy wouldn't be a bad idea, he became one of the favorites. After his moving homily at John Paul's funeral, people began to say, "he looks like a pope." He projected a sense of comfort, of stability; with him, the Church would be in safe hands. There were other favorites - I have a great regard for Cardinal Arinze, and the Patriarch of Venice was said to be a good man. I forget whether it was Fr. Neuhaus or Michael Novak who said the Church had a deep bench, but it was a comforting thought. I prayed, along with many, that the Cardinals would act in concert with the Holy Spirit, and that gave me a feeling of peace. Still, I dared to hope that Cardinal Ratzinger would be the one.

I was fortunate enough to see most of it at work; in one of those ironies that prove to me God wants us to be happy, I was away from my desk, running an errand that I could have done at any time, when I saw a group of people gathered around a big screen TV in the food court of an office building. It couldn't be, could it? It was not quite 11:00 central time; they didn't figure the smoke to be coming out for another hour.

It looked white, and the crowds were cheering, but the bells were silent. Still, the smoke kept coming, and the cheering was becoming louder and louder. The announcers on Fox were getting caught up in it, more people gathered in the food court. Finally, the bells! There was no doubt about it, and the graphic on Fox told the story: Habemus Papam! We Have a Pope!

There was going to be a wait, I was ready for that. I remembered back to '78, when I had come home from class to find a similar situation, with the crowds anxiously awaiting the announcement. As the minutes ticked by, the suspense mounted. I'd read the opinions that Ratzinger might have peaked too soon; the black smoke earlier in the morning, meaning another two ballots had gone by, lent credence to the idea that it might be someone else. If Ratzinger was so obvious, why was it taking so long? But now I had a hunch; the smoke was early, which suggested to me they'd only voted once in the afternoon. Four ballots in all - very, very unlikely that they'd chosen a surprise candidate. It had to be one of the favorites. My hunch was that it was Ratzinger.

Finally the announcement. The crowd was wild, but settled down as Cardinal Estevez began to speak. As soon as he said "Joseph," the secret was out. "Ratzinger" was merely a confirmation. And the name Benedict - there would be speculation over the meaning, and I thought "this will take some getting used to," but at the same time it seemed right.

Looking at him standing on the balcony, so familiar from having seen him all those years, and yet so different, I couldn't help but think over and over again - it has really happened. The contrast is pronounced - the vestments alone point it out. And he has passed through, in a sense, to another side. Joseph Ratzinger is dead and gone; he is now Pope Benedict XVI, and will be for the ages. I had mentioned a few days ago that this would be the first pope chosen in the age of the mass media and in all likelihood he would be the first who had been widely known prior to being made pope; therefore, it would take some getting used to knowing this Cardinal, whomever he would be, as pope. Looking at him on the balcony (the caption on TV read "Pope Benedict XVI speaks), and looking at the news websites (CNN and Fox broadcast the headline "Ratzinger Becomes Pope," but they were already showing his picture with the caption "Pope Benedict XVI), the truth began to sink in. I looked at his picture more intently; he was the same, but different. I looked at his picture, and felt joy - joy for me, joy for the Church, joy for us all. It nearly brought tears to my eyes several times during the day.

The Lord has answered our prayers. In His great mercy and compassion He has given us not the pope we, as sinful creatures, deserve; He has given us the pope we need. Gaudete! Rejoice! This is a red-letter day for the Church, and the world.

Let us pray for our new Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. He will come under attack for his background (they're already working that Nazi angle), for his theology, his supposed "extreme right-wing" politics. The attacks will, sadly, probably be more vicious from within than without. But Our Lord hears our prayers, and Our Holy Father knows we are praying for him, just as he is praying for us. Our Lord promised He would remain with His Church until the end of time, and Benedict XVI is living proof. Amen!

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