First off, I have to apologize for not writing an entire blog on my trip to Tuscany. I’ve been really busy with midterms and, of course, being in St. Peter’s for the Conclave. I had an amazing and wonderful time in Pisa, Florence, and Trequanda. I’m in love with the Tuscan countryside and I definitely want to try and make it back.
Ok, so I, for one, was excited about Conclave starting on Tuesday. I have been keeping updated about what what was happening at the Vatican leading up to the start of Conclave. The Friday before Conclave was due to start, one of my on-site classes met early in the morning to go to the Vatican museums and St. Peter’s Basilica (all were open except for the Sistine Chapel and the two museums next to it). This was the first time I had been to the Vatican since Pope Benedict XVI left by helicopter. Being there during Sede Vecante, it really felt different. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but it didn’t feel the same being at the Vatican with no pope. My class finishes the day in front of the Pieta. Of course, before my friend and I leave to go home, we walk over to see Blessed Pope John Paul II’s tomb. Over the weekend, I planned on how and when I was going to make it down to the Vatican to see the smoke.
Tuesday night, I made it to St. Peter’s Square a little after 6:00 pm. I expected the smoke would be black since it was only the first round of voting. There were a fair amount of people there and there was a buzz about the Square as everyone was excited and news crews were interviewing people. But all eyes were set on the four screens that had a view of the chimney. At 7:30, we got news from the first round of ballots.
I left St. Peter’s thinking that from here on out, we could have a pope at any time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to the Vatican Wednesday (yesterday) morning because a midterm got in the way. But I told myself that I would get to St. Peter’s early in the evening.
I had planned on leaving my apartment at 5:15 at the latest to get to St. Peter’s Square by 6:00. I didn’t end up leaving until 5:45-5:50 because getting ready and eating dinner took longer than I thought. I was watching live feed on my computer as I was getting ready and seeing the crowd get bigger and bigger made me a bit anxious. As I made my way to the Vatican, I prayed that nothing happened until I got there because it seemed like the bus was taking forever to go the 6 or so stops to the Vatican. I eventually made it by 6:30 and there was a bigger crowd than the night before, though I wasn’t surprised. I weaved my way to where I was standing in front of one of the big screens so I had a clear view of the chimney. At one point it started to rain, up until then it was only drizzling. A little, old Italian woman, who was standing in front of me, turned to me and started talking to me in Italian. I couldn’t understand everything she was saying, but she wanted to share her umbrella with me. It was very kind of her since I had my umbrella closed in my hand and a rain jacket on. I thanked her and we stood in a companionable silence for a good while, saying a few words to each other. Eventually I was about to ask her what she thinks the smoke would be; white or black. As soon as the first word came out of my mouth, smoke started to come out of the chimney. It was grey at first, but I somehow knew it was white.
Words fail to express what I felt at this precise moment. All I can say is, I was so excited that I started screaming. I quickly make my way to get as close to St. Peter’s Basilica as I can and at the same time, I’m calling my mom and telling her that there’s white smoke and that she needs to turn on the news. Then, I call one of my friends who was watching from somewhere else in Rome and I tell her that she needed to get to the Vatican as quickly as she could. As we awaited news, the rain had stopped (I wouldn’t argue that God made it stop raining for the Pope).
After a very long hour of growing anticipation, Cardinal Tauran came out onto the balcony and announced the famous words: “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum, Habemus Papam!” It’s one thing to hear those words eight years ago on tv, it’s another thing to hear those words in person. It was so special to hear them. When he announced Cardinal Bergoglio is Pope Francis I, I immediately thought he is Italian by his last name, until the people around me said he is from Argentina. Anticipation and excitement was growing with every passing second till the time the new pope came out onto the balcony.
When the Cardinals came out to the side balconies, all of St. Peter’s erupts in shouts, screams, and clapping because everybody knew that the Pope was right behind them. When Pope Francis came out on the balcony everyone started cheering “Francisco” and “Viva il Papa” for at least 2 to 3 minutes. After everyone quieted down and Pope Francis started talking, I could tell by the sound of his voice and what he was saying that he is going to be a good pope and he is going to be good for the Church. When he asked for a moment of silence, the entire Square, and I’m sure down Via della Conciliazione as well, was in complete silence. You would think there would be some noise because it’s hard to make a huge crowd, like the one in St. Peter’s, to be completely silent, but there was absolutely no noise for that moment.
After Pope Francis and the cardinals went back into the Basilica, people started to leave, but I decided to hang around for a bit to let most of the crowd go. I managed to find two of my roommates and a group of my friends and we started talking about everything that just happened.
I part from my friends to go look for the RTE, a big Irish news network, at one of the “press tents.” I have no such luck finding the RTE, but you would not believe who I did manage to find…
Never in my life had I thought of seeing Anderson Cooper, let alone meet him. I started taking pictures of him and I call home to tell them who I am close to and to turn on CNN. And it doesn’t stop there. I managed to push my way to the front to get my picture with him, but he was so focused on the people around me and talking with his film crew that I didn’t get a chance at first. Then he goes on air. I wasn’t expecting to be in the front when he was on air, but I thought it was cool to be in the background. At least my family got to see me at home. But then he turns around and asks us how we’re doing and where we’re from. He points the mic to the guy to my left, to me, and to the two ladies to my right. He asks the four of us different questions and I couldn’t believe that this was happening. He asked me how long I was at the Vatican and I answered two hours. And he said something to the extent of, “You waited in the rain? Most people would have left.” And I answered that I just had a good feeling about tonight. The last question he asked me was what I thought of the new pope (I think) and apparently the answer I gave was a good one because a priest who was standing behind me said that it was a very good answer that he may not have said. I was on such an adrenaline high, that I don’t remember all of what I said. After the interview was over, I finally got my picture with Anderson Cooper. He was really nice about taking pictures with people and signing autographs, and yes, I have to say, he is quite cute (I think many people would agree with me on that).
I start to walk to a bus stop down at the end of Via della Conciliazione when another reporter stopped me to ask me questions. It was just one guy with a camera and a mic. After I answer his questions, I continue on my way to find a bus when another crew asks me in Italian if they could ask me questions. I told them in Italian that I didn’t speak much Italian, but I spoke English. So, they asked me a few questions in English. All were basically about what I thought of the new pope. So, I was interviewed a grand total of 3 times. I left the Vatican with a smile on my face and a spring in my step all because I was in the right place at the right time.
I finally made it home at about 10:45 still on an adrenaline high and for a good two hours, I talked with family and friends at home. By the time I finish making calls, it was about 1:00 am and I needed to get up at 7:00 for class. I was not tired to the point that I could not and did not sleep well because my mind was racing with everything that happened. The one class I had this morning was my religion class. We spent the first 30-45 minutes talking about Pope Francis before we moved on to talk about Vatican II. I was still on that adrenaline high this morning, but now I’m starting to feel it wear off.
I’m looking forward in trying to attend the Pope’s installation Mass next Tuesday. We’ll see how that goes since it’s open to the general public and it’s an early Mass. If it doesn’t work out, I have tickets to Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday Mass at the Vatican. So, for now, I ask that everyone pray for our new Pope as he starts his journey as leader of the Church.