Dear Friends and Family,
Praised be Jesus Christ!
“Where were you when they announced the white smoke?” This is the question everyone is asking each other in Rome this morning. Even all the American priests who were here out my house in the Casa Santa Maria were able to make it to St. Peter’s Square when they heard the bells of Rome start to Ring. They said as you neared the Piazza you heard more and more Church bells and could see People running down every alley!
At 5 minutes to 6 p.m. last night when the white smoke first went up, I was vested in alb, stole and humeral veil kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament in the “Centro San Lorenzo,” the Pope’s Youth Center just a few hundred yards from St. Peter’s square. The Emmanuel Community has been sponsoring Eucharistic Adoration during the Conclave and I was about to do benediction and then at 6 p.m. they were to begin Mass. This would have allowed plenty of time after Mass to get to the square to see the smoke which normally would be expected around 7 p.m. Literally as we were kneeling to begin the Tantum Ergo someone came running into the chapel and said “Habemus Papam — White Smoke — There is White Smoke!” All gasped and I said, “We will do simple reposition and then go!” So as everyone sang I got up and reposed the Blessed Sacrament without benediction. Then I turned around from the tabernacle and said to the 100 or so young people, “Go! Run!” I quickly went back to the Sacristy where I took off my vestments and then made my own 500 yard dash to St. Peter’s square passing hundreds of people who were pouring down the Via del Conciliazione (main street into St. Peters). I was in the Square in time to still see White Smoke coming out of the chimney. I stopped running when I ran into several priests I know who were standing just behind the Obelisk to the left about the center of the Piazza. We were looking at the Chimney saying “It is definitely white.” It was 6 p.m. and the Angelus Bell should have rung but did not, another sign. Also we knew there would be no smoke at this time if it was not decided because they would have done a second ballot ending at 7 p.m. I looked at them and we all said “It must be Ratzinger!” About 6:05 one priest pointed and yelled … look the bells! The huge bell that had last rung at John Paul’s funeral began slowly to swing. We started yelling –Habemus Papam! Soon Fox News showed up and interviewed us and then the reporter stayed with us for the whole announcement. I was trying frantically to call friends back home from a cell phone to tell them and eventually got through to a few of them, including my Mom — I said we have a Pope — White Smoke — watch Fox News! Then we continued to wait filled with joy and expectation. I did a brief interview in Italian on TV — they asked me who I wanted — I said at this point I don’t care who it is — only to know whom our knew Holy Father will be.
We figured it would take about 45 minutes for all that had to go on inside. Each Cardinal had to go and profess his obedience to the New Holy Father — they had to put him in his new white Cassock. But we started praying the Rosary for “the intentions of Our Holy Father — whoever he is!” We did not finish the Rosary before the Cardinal Deacon entered the Piazza to great cries of Joy which were overwhelming as he said, “Habemus Papam!” Then we all became hushed quiet as we would listen for his name… Reverendissime…. Domine …. Josephum! We leapt into the air “It’s Ratzinger!” Before he even got out the last name we priests were hugging each other! Then what is his name?… again a hush — Benedictus XVI. The name which means blessing.
Then there was another pause as the put out the Papal seal — it was the seal of John Paul II as they don’t yet have a new one. Then all the other Cardinals came out on the various balconies of St. Peters. Then proceeded by the Cross out came our New Holy Father and he was beaming! Clearly he was filled with joy at the Crowd and the people began cheering his name “Benedetto!” It took a long time for the crowd to get quiet so he could speak and his words (all in Italian) were self-effacing — he began with a reference to his predecessor, “My dear Brothers and Sisters, after the Great Pope John Paul II,” the crowd errupted with applause. He continued, “the lord cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord. (again cheers and applause) I am consoled by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and act even with insufficient instruments and above all I entrust myself to your prayers. In the joy of the Risen Lord, trusting in his permanent help, we will go forward! The Lord will help us and his Most Holy Mother will be on our side. Thank you!” The crowd erupted with joy. He simply stayed on the balcony as the chanting and cheering continued for several minutes. Finally he went back inside.
We were then interviewed on Fox News. The priests I was with pointed out what a sign of unity for the Church it was that the Cardinals were able to pick a new Pope so quickly. How Cardinal Ratzinger was a gentle and humble man just as he appeared here. (I was with 4 priests who work in the Roman Curia and have all worked at different times with Cardinal Ratzinger). We talked with joy about the fact that World Youth Day is in Germany — now the Pope’s home country.
Afterwards I went back to the Centro San Lorenzo were I was the main celebrant for mass with a couple of hundred youth and other folks. We prayed the prayers for the Pope in the Sacramentary — the readings were about the evangelization in the early Church. I said to the congregation that I felt as if the real fruit of John Paul II would be seen now in the new evangelization lead by our new Holy Father. I encouraged them all as Catholics to take this opportunity right now to pledge the loyal, filial love and support for the new Pope, the Father of our Family. Celebrating Mass was a great way to begin the new Pontificate – we may have been some of the first to pray for our new Pope, Benedict VXI. Afterwards I went to meet for dinner another priest friend with some college students, I walked into the restaurant and he stood up from the other side holding up a German Beer and yelled out “Habemus Papam!” I said, “Alleluia,” and the entire restaurant applauded.
What a gift the Church has received from the Holy Spirit. And I think especially from John Paul II. Cardinal Ratzinger said as much this morning in his first homily as Pope, delivered in Latin in the Sistine Chapel where he said, (my translation), “I consider this fact a grace especially obtained for me from my venerable predecessor John Paul II. It seemed to me that I felt his strong hand taking mine. I seemed to see his smiling eyes and hear his words, in this moment directed right to me: ‘Be not afraid!'”
I know that some in the Church were not as excited as I was to see our New Holy Father. Some will say that this Pope is “rigid,” or that he will take the Church “backwards.” But what is “backwards” or “forwards” in the Church? Backwards is away from Christ — Forwards is towards him — This Pope was intimately close to John Paul II, he knows his mind, he shares his deep love for Christ, he shares his deep desire for evangelization of the world! Pope Benedict will continue the direction that the Holy Spirit has been guiding the Church forwards towards Christ as we have been for the past 26 years. As he said in his homily for the opening of the Conclave he will be leading the Church to “deep friendship with Christ.” His job up to know has been a difficult one as head of the Doctrine of the Faith. He has had the difficult job of Church discipline, which makes no one popular. But people who know Cardinal Ratzinger only as a harsh, rigid, disciplinarian, do not know Pope Benedict XVI, for now we will see a man who has a shepherds heart. In fact he is famous in Rome for being shy but extremely approachable and friendly. He said a public mass every Thursday morning and would welcome anyone who would wait for him afterwards to speak for a few moments, or take a picture or sign a book. He is a man gentle and full of love which is why I believe he chose the name Benedict — since Benedict the XV was known as a reconciler interested in ecumenism.
Surely, he will engage modern secularism in a creative and strong dialogue always standing up for what he called, Adult, mature faith: “”Adult” is not a faith that follows the waves in fashion and the latest novelty. Adult and mature is a faith profoundly rooted in friendship with Christ. This friendship opens us to all that is good and gives us the measure to discern between what is true and what is false, between deceit and truth.” This is in fact what we want. We want a Pope who will lead us to the truth. He will dedicate himself to this. And he has the intellectual stature to provide answers to the modern world.
He does not have the natural charisma and acting experience of John Paul II who could warm up any audience (He is German not Polish) — but he does have his deep love for Christ and this authenticity I believe will capture the hearts of even the youth of our Church.
Let us commit ourselves as members of this one household of God to pray for our new Holy Father.
Vivat Benedictus XVI!!!
In the Protection of Our Lady,
Fr. Andrew Cozzens