Recalling thoughts, hopes and prayers of the day of the election
“In my life, this is the first time I have witnessed a real miracle with my own eyes”. I still recall so clearly the words of my spiritual Father and earlier parish priest – fr. Enrico Ghezzi – when Pope Francis was elected. We were all understandably very touched and felt emotional about the new Pope’s election. But at least for me this time was a bit different from my only previous time (I was too little to remember the earlier elections of “the two John Paul”). The Church was coming out from such a difficult time that ended up with Pope Benedict’s resignation – certainly because of his old age, but possibly also due to the issues the Pope had to face, such as the betrayal of his closest collaborators and an institution that because of the behaviours of individual, often authoritative, representatives had seen heavily affected its credibility and the trust of the people.
I still recall the moment of the election so vividly. Guessing (and hoping) from the name pronounced in Latin by Cardinal Touran and not understood clearly because of the underlying translation (I was not in Italy hence followed the event from a foreign TV programme) that the new Pope was the archbishop of Buenos Aires – the one I had heard was a simple and humble pastor, the one that according to some “speculations” was “the candidate” of Cardinal Martini on the occasion of previous papal election – literally made me jump from the chair. And the second (real) jump was while listening to the name he chose. Just a few minutes before, by messaging with a friend who was in Rome, we were asking to ourselves what name the new Pope would choose. We wrote a couple of names we hoped for and when typing “Francis” I clearly recall my friend stigmatizing: “Magari, that is impossible”.
Instead, we were once again surprised and made happy by God. Once more we realized that what the Gospel teaches is the truth: “Nothing is impossible to God”. I cannot forget the mixed feeling of expectation and preoccupation that I and some of the people closest to me had been going through over the previous weeks following Pope Benedict’s resignation. Our response and way of living that “waiting time” was praying. I remember that for several weeks after Pope Benedict’s resignation I used to pray at any time (even unusual time) I could, whenever I had a “gap” during the day – for example while preparing myself before getting out in the morning or while seated in the car or on the plane….And so did the many people spiritually close to me – including my dearest grandmother, who kept telling me for some time after Pope Francis’ election: I prayed so hard for the new pope. What were we praying for? We prayed to “get” a holy person and a pastor close to his people. It seems we have been heard.
I also recall that I immediately understood that the times of a “cumbersome” centrality placed on the institution of the pope I had been used to since my childhood, particularly during the pontificate of John Paul II, had gone. I did not overlook the way Francis referred to himself to the people as the “bishop of Rome”, while only mentioning the vicar of his “new” dioceses – the Church that “presides in charity”. I felt and hoped that like for the choice of his name it was programmatic. And it was certainly striking that he presented himself for the first time to the people only dressed with the white papal vest, with no other liturgical vestments or paraments, except for the stola put on shortly while blessing the huge mass of people that gathered in St. Peter’s square.
After the initial “mild” reaction from the square when the Habemus Papam formula was pronounced (probably because most of the people were not aware of who was “Georgium Marium cardinalem Bergoglio”), the warmth and emotion became tangible among the people at his gestures and words. Especially when Pope Francis invited the faithful to walk together – both “the pastor and the people” – in “fraternity, love and mutual trust”. And when he asked the people to receive the “prayer of you over me” and bowed in silence for a few minutes. But also when in blessing those in the square and who was connected through the modern communication technologies, he indicated that the blessing was also for “the whole world and all men and women of good willingness”. The spirit of the conciliar Church was felt strongly among many of us. Again we had another hope, that the new Pope would genuinely embrace, apply, and put forward the indications of the Second Vatican Council.
We believe that these are the first seeds of Pope Francis. By recalling them after three years, we happily feel that a new Church was born and has been flourishing from those seeds. What people like me, especially old pastors that dedicated their whole life to the Gospel and the Church, has been believing and hoping for – a Church of poverty, charity, openness and mercy, the Church of the Council – was realised and is being realised by this pastor, who “came from the other side of the world”. Let us pray for Pope Francis, as he keeps up asking us, everyday, regularly, for his peace and intentions. The power of prayer is strong and if all of us join our prayers, we will hopefully be able to help him sustain his mission – a mission of love, dedication, sacrifice and witness.