For those of you who know me personally (and I’m assuming that’s most of you, creeps), you know that I’m not exactly the quiet type. However, the amount of times I’ve screamed loudly enough to tip the acoustic scale is surprisingly low. In fact, I could probably round it out to three extremely important moments in my twenty years of existence:
1. That one time I found a stink bug in my bed.
2. When I bought a ticket to my first Arctic Monkeys concert (June 23 2010, never 4get <3)
3. Last night, in Piazza San Pietro, when the name Jorge Bergoglio was announced to over 50,000 people gathered around the basilica.
Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks or so, Pope Benedict VIXIIVCIABC or whatever abdicated his Vatican throne, which marks the first time a pope has gone into early retirement since the 14th century. A lot of people weren’t too happy about that- it’s kind of a lifetime membership sort of thing. Being a pope is not just a hobby, okay? It’s a lifestyle.
IT’S NOT JUST A PHASE MOM! THIS IS THE REAL ME!
But that lifestyle proved to be a bit too much for Benny, so he tastefully said his goodbyes and peaced… just in time for all of Temple Rome to witness a dramatic historical event the likes of which nobody in this little school would have ever imagined we could have been a part of in person.
Being a fervent follower of Showtime’s “The Borgias” and having a pirated copy of “Angels and Demons” dubbed in Spanish in my laptop, I consider myself pretty much an expert in matters of papal elections and everything that’s at stake when 115 cardinals get together to decide who of them is old enough to lead about 670 billion Catholics all around the world. Basically, it goes a little like this: once the pope dies, (or in this case, peaces out), some of the most important and illustrious cardinals around the world come to the Vatican and gather in the Sistine Chapel to vote for a new pope. Conclave, then, is the election whereby the cardinals decide who amongst them will lead the church for the next fifteen years or so. Putting it lightly, it’s kind of a big deal.
The votes are written down on individual pieces of paper and burnt with a special powder, whose smoke goes up the furnace into the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. If the smoke is black, it means that the cardinals have not been able to reach a decision. If the smoke is white… all hell breaks loose.
So this is a story about how all hell broke loose at around seven o’clock on the afternoon of March 13th, 2013.
The moment the white smoke appeared the papal election was quite honestly the last thing on my mind. Nursing a horrible migraine and dreading the history research paper I had put off working on for about a month, I had just sat down in my kitchen to begin reading about Gallileo when, on a whim, I decided to check Facebook one last time.
I have never been so thankful for Mark Zuckerberg in my life. My newsfeed was quickly flooded with family members asking my friends whether they could see the smoke from the residence, or whether anyone had started selling pope hats on the street yet (negative to both). Migrane suddenly gone, I jumped out of my chair, grabbed my keys, and ran up three flights of stairs to meet my friend Lauren, who thankfully was the only person still remaining in the residence.
And then we ran.
Let me tell you something- I am not a runner by any means. I firmly believe that running is repulsive and the source of all evil in this godforsaken world, and that all of us would be much better off if we just took things a little slower. I hate running; I wouldn’t run if there was a fire. But in that moment, I ran for my life. Call it the Holy Spirit egging me forwards- it certainly was a miracle that we managed to reach the Vatican after fifteen minutes of death sprints. Any distress over brutta figura was gone- for the first time, Italians were running alongside us, all trying to get into the piazza at St. Peter’s. Shouts of “Habbemus Pappam!” and “POOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPEZZZ” rang all around us. People were crying, holding each other’s hands and laughing madly, the drums of the Swiss Guard and Carabinieri echoing their footsteps as thousands of spectators got funneled by the Roman police into neat files heading into the square.
Once inside, we easily elbowed our way about halfway between the obelisk and the facade of the basilica, passing miscellaneous groups of priests and nuns from orders all over the world. We settled in and went about trying our hardest not to have a heart attack in the middle of the piazza, which was especially difficult when we met a young priest who not only was also hanging out in the square to witness the whole thing, but lo and behold- he was Argentine, too.
I don’t now if you know anything about Argentines, but when two of us meet in a foreign country, we become instant best friends.Our lovely priest’s name was Raffael, and he was studying in Rome after living in Connecticut and Cordoba for a couple of years. We alternated between English and Spanish (and even some Italian with the people surrounding us) while we discussed who would come out as pope. Some names were being thrown around, with cardinals from France and Italy all named -there was even an American in the running. There was also an Argentine, Jorge Bergoglio. As usual, we spend about 0.5 seconds considering the chance he’d be chosen. Again, I don’t know if you know anything about Argentina, but we’re not exactly what you’d call winners. Tune into the World Cup sometime to see for yourself.
So when an hour later the curtains parted and they announced that “Giorgio Bergoglio” had taken the name of Francesco for his new office, it understandably took us a few moments to process what had happened.
Raffael started shaking. “No, no, no, no, no!” he said, “Es el Argentino! He’s one of us!” he shouted to his priest buddies that were crowding a few meters back (pictures above).
And then it happened.
I let out such a blood-curdling scream that I’m pretty sure more than one person around me thought I’d gotten stabbed. A camera man who had been filming the whole spectacle eagerly turned his camera into my face, thinking that he’d finally found the scandalous story of his career. Instead, he found himself filming a blinded midget who appeared to be having some sort of demonic possession, and a young priest violently jumping up and down, both clutching each other in death grips and chanting the national anthem.
Much less interesting.
There was a long moment of confusion as every journalist around us shuffled their notebooks to find Bergoglio’s nationality. Frenzied whispers repeating “Francesco”, and “Bergoglio” were being thrown around the entire square. It was kind of like the intro sequence in Gossip Girl where that random voice is all “Where is Serena? Where is she? GOSSIP GIRL” in this weird raspy whisper, except not at all. And when he finally came out and waved to us, it finally felt real. With the crowd clapping and cheering and the flags waving, and the iPads recording… I’ve never felt more a part of anything in my life. “I am never #$%*ing leaving this square” yelled Raffael as we continued to hug and cry. “Bury me in St. Peter’s!”
Even after we lost Raffael in the crowd and followed the flags to continue to chant with the other Argentines in the square it was hard to believe it was really happening. Everything felt so extremely surreal and simultaneously vividly realistic- almost like a dream. I have only had a couple of experiences in my life where I’ve thought to myself, “I’m telling my grandchildren about this”, and this has certainly climbed to the top of the list. There was something incredible about reuniting with my roommate later at dinner and re-counting where we’d been when we heard the announcement. There was also something completely elating about feeling like a part of something bigger than myself. I could not believe- still can’t, really- that I was an Argentine living in Rome, hanging out with an Argentine priest, witnessing another Argentine cleric being given the highest responsibility and honor of his office.
Oh, yeah. Since we’re talking about that…
The decision to elect the first South American pope, aside from ensuring all papal masses are given in a fabulous porteno accent, raises a lot of issues. Mainly, the recognition of South America as an important vehicle of the catholic faith, and some might say, the future of the catholic church. As The Guardian so nicely said, “His appointment is a recognition that the church’s future lies not in Europe, or not only in Europe”.
So after all this craziness, what do I think of the whole thing? Could this new pope, a Jesuit, be the change the church needs? Could we actually be nearing an age where South America becomes the newly accepted center of one of the largest faiths in the world? Or will Francesco just turn out to be more of the same old? Let’s put it this way- after the craziness of the ceremony, when a private car came to drive the new pope to dinner, it returned empty. He had chosen to go on the buses with his fellow cardinals and arrive with them instead. As a bishop, Bergoglio was known to cook for himself and had a habit of traveling around Buenos Aires on the bus. During the post-dinner toast, he toasted the cardinals and said, “May God forgive you for what you’ve done”.