I cannot believe I was here to see such an incredible, historic day.
Since the conclave started yesterday, I fully intended to be in St. Peter’s Square as often as possible. So, as soon as I got out of class this morning, I headed downtown – just in time to see the black smoke go up at 11:30.
I knew there was going to be another vote, so I decided just to stay. If I waited five hours, at least I would have a prime spot to see the smoke, right? But I didn’t think it would be today. Everyone I have talked to has been predicting Thursday or Friday. But I don’t have any other classes on Wednesday, so, why not hang out?
A friend of mine joined me and we set up camp in the square. As the day progressed it became more and more crowded, and we met all sorts of people who overheard us speaking English and stopped to ask us questions. One man, a Canadian, was thoroughly unimpressed by the size of the chimney, while another, an American living in Thailand, was very much concerned with finding some coffee. I talked to a group of women from Texas who, upon finding out I’ve been living here for a few months, immediately quizzed me on the markets where they could buy some Italian yarn (must be knitters!) and another group of moms who were chaperoning their high school choir’s Italian tour… apparently they were supposed to perform for the Pope today (of all days!) until Benedict announced his resignation!
My friend and I slipped out around 6pm to get something to eat and take a break from the cold and the rain. We had to squeeze our way back into the square at 6:45, but thank goodness we did, because soon after that white smoke came pouring out of the Sistine Chapel chimney.
White smoke! I could hardly believe it! Suddenly everyone around me started to scream and run forward to the steps of the basilica, and we happily – ecstatically – joined them. People were crying, cheering, and singing all around me, cameras were flashing everywhere, and everyone in Rome was on their way to St. Peter’s Square. We weaved as close as we could to the front, and then waited for the new Pope to appear.
About forty-five minutes later, the announcement was made: “Habemus papam!” When we discovered it was the Argentinian cardinal, shouts of joy erupted from the group next to me – a priest from Latin America and some of his parishioners. Not long after, one of the women in the group remembered “‘E Jesuita!“, and that shout passed through the crowd.
Then, accompanied by a fanfare, the new Pope Francis appeared on the balcony.
I cannot believe I was there to witness it. I am shocked, awed, speechless – well, I suppose not exactly speechless. This blog post is already almost 500 words long. Pope Francis welcomed the crowd, made a few jokes, said a few prayers, extended a blessing (I didn’t understand much, though, since it was in Italian!) and had a moment of silence. The whole square actually fell silent, which was awesome and beautiful, albeit a bit eerie. Then he said “Buona notte!” and sent us all home.
And… I was there.
Viva il Papa!
Megan Whitacre '14