I was a Protestant baby in diapers when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, and I don't have any recollection of even knowing of his existence throughout my childhood, or young adulthood. Despite the unfortunate reality that I came to know and love him so late in his pontiff (if I am very honest with myself I can even say I did not REALLY fall in love with him until after his death), when I did come to know him, I fell head over heals in love with him. My heart explodes with love for him. My husband's heart mirrors my own, which is why our four year old answers when we call the name John Paul.
I was a baby of another sort when Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. This time a Catholic baby, having received the Sacraments of Penance, Holy Communion, and Confirmation, just one year earlier. I probably watched the highlights on NBC or some other secular media outlet. I have a few memories, but not many. I do remember knowing that it was important, but there weren't any intense emotions involved. What I did find remarkable was that in a very short amount of time this unfamiliar man, this unfamiliar face, worked his way into my heart and I quickly found myself in love again. So in early February when my daughter's, "Good morning, Mama," was replaced with, "Mama, we're getting a new pope!" my heart sank and my eyes welled up with tears. I thought he had died. I quickly learned this was not the case and my mourning was replaced with a reserved excitement, mixed with a tinge of sadness at the thought of saying goodbye.
Everything was different this time. Not only for me, but for the whole Church. For the first time in 600 years we were getting a new pope and the current one was still living! I quickly started searching for ways to learn about the process of the Papal Conclave for myself, and for my children. We watched YouTube videos, we adopted a couple of cardinals to pray for, we downloaded lessons and games (although these sat unfinished on our table). Excitement filled our home. As the conclave began we made sure to know exactly when to watch for the smoke and we were glued to EWTN and Relevant Radio. Our inbox was subscribed to the Pope Alarm so even if it happened at 5:00 am we would still be able to quickly get on the IPAD and watch.
We had been waiting and waiting for the smoke yesterday afternoon when finally the first puffs emerged. My heart sank. It looked dark to me. However, my ears heard cries of joy and soon it was evident that indeed, the smoke was white. The bells began to ring, and this time I will never forget where I was or what I was doing. Nor will I forget the way I felt. My heart was soaring and I was filled with emotion. My eyes were quickly filling with tears and although it was just me and my four beautiful babies here in our living room, we felt like we were in the center of St. Peter's Square with the rest of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Kids have a way of bringing a party atmosphere to the most boring of places! There was jumping and screaming, dancing and shouting. I quickly called my husband and shared the good news. Soon after, the phone rang, and a friend and I shared our joy over the phone while our kids celebrated in the background.
Then the waiting began again, and it was almost unbearable. Perhaps a little purgatory time could be knocked off for the faithful who spent that hour with a room full of kids (who actually needed naps) who were just as impatiently as their mom, waiting to find out who our new Holy Father actually was! This COULD be the exact reason there is a Plenary Indulgence attached to that first Papal Blessing (haha!). Finally, the curtains began to move. I have to admit, I lost a bit of the excitement. My English-only ears couldn't even pick up on the name of the Cardinal. I did catch Pope Francesco though and we waited again for Pope Francis I to emerge! In the meantime the EWTN hosts shared the name of the Cardinal and I had no clue who he was.
When Pope Francis I finally stepped out we watched with the rest of the world, as this very humble man took in his first moments in his new role as Holy Father. I was struck particularly when he asked us, little us, to pray for him. At that moment I felt an undeniable connection with the entire Church. Catholics from all over the entire world were united in prayer for our new Holy Father. We all humbly knelt as he raised his hands in his first Papal Blessing, and I thanked God that I was able to so fully participate in this part of history. The kids and I made signs for their bikes, balloons for the mailbox, and a giant poster to hang in our window. Never mind the fact that we misspelled Papam, and upon return from their neighborhood ride the kids reported the only living things out that they could share the news with were dogs! We did not care! Nothing could squelch the joy! Even the 2 year old, who says very few words, was still chanting (to the best of his ability), "New Pope, New Pope," until the sun went down and his head hit his pillow.
After all the excitement faded away, I wondered how long it would take me to fall in love this time. I am happy to report that I awoke this morning, read one article, and filled with gratitude announced, "I LOVE this man!"