By Br Eric Wandrey
Our seminary in Rome is 4.5 miles from the Vatican. Since the announcement of the Conclave, every brother was making his own contingency plans to get to St. Peter’s ASAP when the white smoke went up.
I had it all planned out with a program of the possible times and the best mode of transportation for each possibility. The worst-case scenario would have been running the whole way on foot, which I was ready to do, but thankfully it did not come to that!
I was in a meeting with the rector when the white smoke went up. Somebody yelled in Spanish: “White smoke! Let’s move!” With that began a free-for-all dash that I wish we had on camera. For the next five minutes, the entrance to our seminary looked like the starting gates of the Kentucky Derby as brothers burst out, intent on catching the bus. We piled into the 247, and made it to the Square within 30 minutes. Once off public transportation, we had to sprint half a mile, in cassock!
Actually, even more difficult than running in cassock was dodging little nuns running with abandon in full habit.
My dress shoes were a wreck and my cassock was filthy, but being there for such a historic moment was totally worth it.
At the Square, the atmosphere was vibrant with excitement. When Pope Francis came out, the reaction was instant and intense. I will never forget it.
What impressed me about the Pope’s short discourse was his humility. He immediately took the attention off of himself, asking us all to join him in prayer for the Pope Emeritus. Then, before giving us his first Papal blessing, he asked us all to spend of a moment of silence praying for him. While I was praying, I could not help but thinking, “He is off to a good start!”
After the Pope had spoken, I stayed in the Square, soaking it all in. Everywhere you looked, you could see great joy and enthusiasm. Everyone, whether young or old, secular or religious, was acting like an excited kid. Reporters and TV anchors were dashing around interviewing whomever they could catch, trying to capture the emotion of the moment.
The next day, we still had classes in the morning, but the rest of the day was spent celebrating the new Pontiff and praying for him as he takes on his new, colossal responsibility.
No doubt, there are still tough times ahead, but in the Bark of Peter, with our eyes on Christ, we will weather the stormy seas that await us.