An Election Reaction
by Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
©Catholic Online 2005
Tuesday, April 19 was a memorable day for me in St. Peter's Square as the excited crowd of an estimated 100,000, not counting those standing on and along the nearby Via della Conciliazione, heard the result of the College of Cardinals' brief but intense deliberations: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as the 265th Pope, taking the name Benedict XVI.
I was in a meeting in our office in front of the Square when I heard a crowd of people roaring at about 5:43 p.m. local time. Within two minutes, I noted a similar noise. I ran down the many stairs and into the street, passing Raymond Flynn, the former mayor of Boston and U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, as I made my way to the Square. What looked to be white smoke could be seen emanating from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel. Scores of men and women, boys and girls streamed towards the Square, glancing as they scurried at two large television screens strategically placed on either side of the Piazza that provided a close-up of the chimney.
Twenty minutes later, the impressive bells perched above the façade of St. Peter's Basilica began their festive melody, thereby effectively erasing any stubborn doubt: the Successor to Pope John Paul II had been chosen. It was only a matter of moments until his identity would be revealed.
Speculation was rampant around me. A priest with whom I live spied me from a distance and approached. "It has to be Ratzinger," he offered, referring to the seventy-eight year old theologian who hails from Bavaria and has served as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1981. During the previous ten days, various Vaticaniste predicted that the multilingual and widely-traveled Cardinal Ratzinger, a prolific writer and lecturer, and former Archbishop of Munich, was the favorite to follow his longtime friend Karol Wojtyla to the Chair of St. Peter. That only four ballots were needed seemed to confirm this hunch.
After another forty minutes, the Cardinal Proto-Deacon walked onto the balcony of the Basilica to proclaim: Habemus Papam--"We have a Pope." Various sectors of the Square erupted in unrestrained shouts of glee after the Latin name Iosephus--"Joseph"--was announced, not bothering to wait for "Ratzinger."
Finally, the new Pontiff--the first German Pope in more than 900 years--appeared, labeling himself as a "humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord." He appealed to the faithful assembled to pray for him, while simultaneously entrusting himself to the celestial intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Pope Benedict XVI concluded the historic occasion by imparting his Urbi et Orbi ("To the City and World") Blessing, which he as the Vicar of Christ will grant each Christmas Day and Easter Sunday.
Reactions from all over the globe were forthcoming soon after the papal election. President George W. Bush, speaking for himself and his wife Laura, declared: "We join with our fellow citizens and millions around the world who pray for continued strength and wisdom as His Holiness leads the Catholic Church." And the Most Rev. Donald J. Kettler, the Bishop of Fairbanks and native of Sioux Falls, observed: "Pope Benedict XVI is an intelligent man with theological fortitude, exemplary service to the Roman Catholic Church and deserving of the trust that has been bestowed upon him."
Witnessing the beginning of the Petrine ministry of Papa Ratzinger was just another in a lengthy list of unforgettable experiences for me during this cool spring in Italy's Capitol.
(From the "Sioux Falls Argus Leader," April 21, 2005.)
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