Perhaps this time it was not as intense; perhaps not as sad, knowing that this time there was no death staring us in the eyes, unlike 8 years ago when a giant in the arena of world history had been on his death bed, about to depart. But the feeling and experience were nonetheless familiar: 100,000 devout pilgrims huddled in prayer in St. Peter’s Square, defying the falling rain and chilly evening of Rome in March; curious media reporters stationed everywhere, trying to catch every hearsay that could arouse the interest of their viewers; Catholics all over the world put aside their daily routines to pray for the Church, waiting anxiously for the election of a new Pope. It’s as though their lives - maybe the whole history of the world - were hung in suspense.
It’s on occasions such as this that the power of prayer, especially the Rosary, is made evident. Two thousand years ago, following the ascension of Christ, in anticipation of the birth of the Church on Pentecost, the apostles and their followers gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem to pray (cf. Acts 1:12-14). Among them, Mary, the Mother of the Church, who played a decisive role both in the generation of the God made flesh and in the birth of the community that receives the nourishment of the Body of Christ.
After lunch this afternoon, I walked gingerly on the slippery and snow-covered grounds of the Too Good Pond, praying the Rosary as I went. Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women…In spite of the familiarity of the prayer, what I experienced in praying it at a time when the whole Church was awaiting the arrival of a new Pope was anything but familiar. For the first time I understood clearly what it really meant to pray in Mary, by whom the Church was anticipated and in whom the Church is personified. She was there when the great mystery of God made flesh was about to take place. She was there, in solidarity with the community of apostles and disciples gathered by Jesus, praying for the Church that was about to be inaugurated. On this special day, I know she was there, once again, together with all the faithful of the Catholic Church - including me, a contemplative soul slip-sliding away in solitude on the icy grounds of the Too Good Pond - to pray in anticipation of a new successor to St. Peter, as a Mother would.
At 3 p.m., I turned on the TV to learn that an hour ago, just when I was praying at the Too Good Pond, the white smoke from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel had come out. We had a new Pope! Half an hour later, Pope Francis, former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina, a saintly man of holiness and simplicity, appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s to greet the faithful. The 266th successor to St. Peter is here! Where are the successors to the Roman emperors whose calculated, relentless, and repetitive persecutions of the Church were meant to exterminate her leaders and followers? Where is the Roman Empire that was once so mighty and powerful? Ironically the only "empire" that bears a resembling name is the Roman Catholic Church - the Kingdom of Christ that reigns not by sheer military power but by the love of Christ.