It was a fairly normal March afternoon and I was at my computer working on my senior project, with a livestream of the Conclave playing in the background from Salt+Light TV. The anchors were discussing all the possibilities facing the Church, which of the “papabile” was the most likely candidate, and reflecting on the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Then I heard it, like a bell suddenly pealing out in the middle of the night:
“And it looks like we have black smoke again… Actually, it’s looking a little greyish… Wait a minute… White smoke! WE HAVE WHITE SMOKE! The Cardinals have elected the next Pope!!”
My heart leapt with excitement as I ran to the TV to watch coverage on the news. Every major network had had their eyes fixed on Rome since the College of Cardinals began arriving for Conclave. Every night the news would show video of that little smokestack on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. But this night was unlike any other night in recent memory. The white smoke, the “fumata bianca," had been spotted: the Church had Her new Vicar of Christ!
My thoughts quickly jumped back to my freshman year of high school, the year Pope Benedict XVI was elected. It was all new to me then, as John Paul II had been Pontiff for my entire life. This time was different: I understood what the Conclave was, how it worked, and what to expect when the new Pope was revealed to the world. When “Cardinal Protodeacon” Jean-Louis Tauran came to the loggia of St. Peter’s, it felt as though the whole world held its breath. Even the news anchors had gone silent until the words “Habemus Papam," which caused the crowd in the piazza to explode with cheers. Though there was confusion as to who this Cardinal Bergoglio was, it was quickly forgotten when his chosen name was announced: Francis, the first Pontiff ever to take the name of one of the world’s most well-known and beloved saints. Clearly, this new Pontiff had plans to set the bar high. St. Francis is, after all, most well-known for his simple lifestyle of meekness and poverty.
When he stepped out onto the balcony, Pope Francis did not disappoint. He looked overwhelmed and nervous, yet very much at peace with the decision of the Cardinals. He warmly greeted the crowd and then, to everyone’s shock, bowed before the whole world to ask each of us for our prayers. It was a poignant gesture, the likes of which the world rarely sees these days. I myself was nearly moved to tears, as this man, whose name I’d never even heard before, was bowing and asking me for my prayers as he took up the hardest job in the Church. It was a touching moment I’ll not soon forget.
In the year that has passed since then, Pope Francis has remained consistent in his message of evangelizing by authentic Christian living. Much like his namesake, who is often paraphrased as saying “preach the Gospel at all times; use words when necessary," Francis has spent his pontificate challenging Christians everywhere to practice what we preach, in both word and deed. Even in the face of hot-button political issues, he successfully reminds the world that each person and situation we meet is an opportunity to encounter Christ and share His message.
In our meme-driven world of social media, there have been many images created to try and encapsulate various aspects of Pope Francis’s message in both witty and moving ways. There is one, however, that paints a beautiful picture of continuity between Francis and his two predecessors:
It has been said that Pope Francis has a radical new approach to Catholicism. This is a rather naïve analysis; he is presenting a two thousand year old message in a simple and authentic manner. It’s not that Francis is telling the world anything particularly earth-shattering, it’s that he’s challenging the world without us realizing it. His demeanor is warm and inviting, but his message is a true call to action. It isn’t enough to simply profess faith; we must live it daily in order to meet and serve Christ Himself in others.
As we celebrate the first year of Pope Francis’s pontificate, we continue to pray for him and for the Church. May our work model the example set by the Holy Father:
“Let us learn from Christ how to pray, to forgive, to sow peace, and to be near those in need.” –Pope Francis, Feb 18, 2014
Viva il Papa!
Jay Schaefer is the Webinar Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center
"Shock." "Disbelief." "Uncertainty." "Bittersweet."
The above descriptors were all used by friends to describe their reaction to last week’s resignation announcement by Pope Benedict XVI. I awoke at 6:02am last Monday to several text messages from friends informing me of the reported, yet still unconfirmed, “shot heard round the world.”
The resignation of our Holy Father, at first, felt like the loss of a grandparent that you have grown up with; I have grown up in the Church of Pope Benedict XVI. After letting the news sink in over the last week, I have found some inspiration in Psalm 30:6, which speaks of sorrow leading to rejoicing: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” My sense of loss has been transformed into a greater sense of admiration for a man that I have never met, yet have such a deep respect for.
For lack of something more appropriate to say, I offer to you the words of the Holy Father during his homily at the Final Mass of the 26th World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain on August 21, 2011. May his words serve as a challenge to all of us during the last days of his momentous pontificate. Oremus pro Pontifice et pro invicem.
Dear young friends, as the Successor of Peter, let me urge you to strengthen this faith which has been handed down to us from the time of the Apostles. Make Christ, the Son of God, the center of your life. But let me also remind you that following Jesus in faith means walking at his side in the communion of the Church. We cannot follow Jesus on our own. Anyone who would be tempted to do so “on his own”, or to approach the life of faith with that kind of individualism so prevalent today, will risk never truly encountering Jesus, or will end up following a counterfeit Jesus.
Having faith means drawing support from the faith of your brothers and sisters, even as your own faith serves as a support for the faith of others. I ask you, dear friends, to love the Church which brought you to birth in the faith, which helped you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and which led you to discover the beauty of his love. Growing in friendship with Christ necessarily means recognizing the importance of joyful participation in the life of your parishes, communities and movements, as well as the celebration of Sunday Mass, frequent reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and the cultivation of personal prayer and meditation on God’s word.
In closing, I share with you a rendition of Tu es Petrus, composed by Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, Director Emeritus of the Sistine Chapel Choir, performed during World Youth Day in Madrid.
Alex R. Boucher is the Program & Operations Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexBoucher.