As so many of my compatriots, I speak only English so I’m still in the process of locating, collecting and reading what I can find in translation by and about our new Holy Father, Pope Francis. (And that is Pope Francis, not Pope Francis I, even though he is the first Pope named Francis. No need to distinguish him from any other Popes named Francis since there aren’t any.)
I grew up Methodist and knew absolutely nothing about Catholicism. I didn’t notice popes as they came and went. I didn’t pay attention when Pope John Paul II was elected, though he certainly caught my attention later. I paid some attention when Pope Benedict was elected but mostly I was still grieving the loss of his predecessor for whom I had developed a deep and abiding affection. And when Pope Benedict announced that he had renounced the Chair of Peter, I was truly astonished. When I watched him fly via helicopter away from the Vatican, I actually cried.
Grief morphed into hope as the time of the Conclave approached and I couldn’t stop watching and listening to the coverage provided by EWTN (and secular media when there was nothing else). After I watched the doors of the Sistine Chapel close, signaling the beginning of deliberations in earnest, my excitement began to build. By the time the white smoke was announced, I was ready to jump up and down and grab the nearest person to me for a hug. Which probably explains why the coffee shop I was sitting in, watching coverage on my iPad and listening on my phone–the coffee shop which was full when I got there–was strangely empty shortly after I heard the words, “Habemus Papam!”
I’d like to offer something profound in honor of our new Holy Father but my mind is nothing but a happy, excited mess right now. I can say that watching that humble, gentle man and listening to his soft, tender words, I began to feel a real affection for him. And something deeper than affection. When I realized that he was praying the Lord’s Prayer (even though he was praying in Italian; I’m still learning to say these prayers in Latin but thought I recognized the difference), I felt my heart expand in my chest and more tears came to my eyes. Our new Chief Shepherd was already leading his flock in prayer. (And that prayer was for his predecessor, Benedict XVI. When I heard that, more tears came.) Then before he gave us his blessing, he asked us to pray to the Lord for him.
I’m sure I will love this man more as time goes on. But right now it’s hard to see how this will be possible. I love him very much already. Habemus Papam! Viva il Papa!