Meredith Smith is a parishioner who most recently worked at Holy Spirit parish in Annandale, but is now studying at the Angelicum, a Pontifical University in Rome. We asked Meredith to share with us her experience (and photos) of being in St. Peter’s Square when the new Holy Father, Pope Francis, was selected.
Last Wednesday evening, white is exactly what the world saw: white smoke, white lights on the white basilica, and a white cassock. Our new Papa, Francesco, had been elected and was being announced to the world! I was very blessed to have been in St. Peter’s Square when the smoke went up and when Papa Francesco first stepped out onto the balcony.
It was a very miserable evening in Rome; it was raining and had been raining for days. So it was wet, cold, and we were very tired. But I had not seen any smoke live; I did not go to the Square on Tuesday evening and I was in class on Wednesday afternoon, so I was going to stay in that Square until smoke went up! I was with a group of seminarians from the Venerable English College and we all thought that we were going to see black. No one was expecting to see a new Pope that evening, and to be honest I wanted to get back to dry clothes and a warm bed! We were there waiting to see if anything would happen at the 5:30 ballot. 5:30 came and went and by 6 we decided that the ballot must have been inconclusive. So we made a circle with our umbrellas and settled in to wait, as settled as you can get in the rain and cold! And then at about 7:05 smoke went up; at first it looked grey and there was confusion: “Black? White? No? Yes?” But it quickly became clear that it was most definitely white and all the bells began to ring, announcing to all in Rome that a new pope had been elected!
As soon as the smoke went white everyone in the Square began to push/ run toward the front of the Square, towards the Basilica, to try to get the best view of the balcony where the new pope would soon appear. I was lucky enough to end up, or rather to be pushed, directly in front of the balcony, half way between the Obelisk and the Basilica. I had an amazing view. And then it was time to wait some more! Excitement and anticipation built with every minute; the speculation began: “Who would it be? Where would he be from? What name would he take?” The waiting seemed like an eternity and a nanosecond at the same time. People were singing songs from their countries and waving their country’s flags and people were chanting “Viva il Papa”. Words cannot even describe the joy and excitement that could be felt as I stood there with hundreds of thousands of my closest friends. The Square filled, the surrounding streets filled, it seemed that all of Rome came to greet their new Shepherd. And then, just over an hour later, the curtain moved!
“Habemus Papam”. The announcement was hard to understand and again there was confusion, “Who did he say? Where is he from? What name did he take?” Slowly, through the crowd you could hear murmuring of “Argentina… Francesco… Buenos Aries.” And then he appeared, Papa Francesco!