They were there

| March 20, 2013 | 0 Comments

Minnesotan joins ‘mad dash’ to see new pope

Tom Schulzetenberg enjoys the festivities in Rome with his wife JoAnn and son Ma­thias. Photo courtesy of Tom Schulzetenberg

Tom Schulzetenberg enjoys the festivities in Rome with his wife JoAnn and son Ma­thias. Photo courtesy of Tom Schulzetenberg

Tom Schulzetenberg is the director of the Rome campus of the University of Mary in Bismark, N.D. Formerly, he was the administrative chancellor for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

WHEN THE WHITE SMOKE APPEARED: I was fortunate to be present in St. Peter’s square, and I stayed in the square to see Pope Francis appear on the balcony and address the crowd…

When the white smoke came, the whole crowd started to cheer, and then 10 seconds later, made a mad dash toward the front of [St. Peter’s Basilica] to get a good spot under the balcony. No one seemed to mind anymore that it was lightly raining and was pretty damp and cold!

The smoke continued to pour out of the little chimney for 15 minutes or so, while the huge bells of St. Peter’s (along with those all over the city) began to ring out. It was electric!

People were praying, trying to call loved ones (the cell phone networks were overloaded and jammed) and many groups started spontaneous chants and songs. After we made our way up toward the front and center, we waited about an hour until the Cardinal-deacon appeared and said the words that we were all waiting for: “Habemus Papam!”

Then he said the name of cardinal elected pope and his new name. At first, we all cheered, then we all looked at each other in confusion and astonishment: “Who?” At that point, hardly anyone knew Cardinal Bergoglio, except a few smart priests and seminarians. Nevertheless, the crowd started to chant “Francesco!” We were so happy that we had a pope!

When the Holy Father appeared, he gave his simple address and asked for prayers before he blessed us. I had expected something much more dramatic, with his hands in the air, greeting the crowd, and saying something profound, like Pope John II, “Be not afraid!”

However, we were all a bit perplexed and even chuckled a little bit when he simply said, “Buona Sera,” (Good evening). I knew then — and it has been confirmed by many of his actions over the last [several] days — that the Church and the world was in store for something wonderful and different. As he continued to speak, people began to see how plain spoken he was — and even a bit humorous —which put them all at ease and was very endearing.

The most profound moment for me was when he asked for a moment of silence to pray for Pope Emeritus Benedict. Everyone fell silent. The rain stopped. Not a single cell phone rang or baby cried. Even the seagulls flying overhead ceased their squawking. It was so quiet that I could hear the water from the fountains in the square running! I couldn’t believe it — with such a crowd and so much excitement! That was my favorite moment.

It was such a blessing to be present that evening, and after coming back to campus (where I am Director for the University of Mary), I was tired and hungry. But I quickly forgot this after I started to speak with our students about their experience. They were so joyful they could hardly speak. I have never seen such excitement in 20-year-olds over a man that they hardly knew! It was extraordinary!

For the next few hours, we talked about the night, Skyped home with friends and family as well as with several news outlets. We had a privileged view of this once-in-a-lifetime event and we knew that we had to share with those who couldn’t be here for it.

ELECTING AN ARGENTINIAN POPE: is a strong signal of the changing dynamics of the Catholic Church in the world. There is much fruit in the Christian communities in areas like South and Latin America. New models of church ministry and lay apostolates are flourishing. These are areas of extraordinary faith, not in spite of their poverty and lower living standards, but maybe partly due to this simple . . . lifestyle.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergolio set an example of how lay men and women can identify with Church leadership, as he made an effort to live simply, like they do. He knows that Christ is present in the poor, the beggar, the sick and suffering. In their choice, the cardinals have shown us that they have not forgotten the poor and know that the Church needs to remind itself of its simple and humble roots.

CATHOLICS CAN EXPECT FROM POPE FRANCIS: a new and fresh sense of servant leadership to the Church, through his choice of his name and his insistence on not being flashy/showy, but a humble bishop. Another thing we can expect is that he will continue to teach and espouse the truths of the Church, which were revealed by Jesus Christ. But I think he will teach us these same truths in a new and relatable way, so as to bring back or re-evangelize many who have strayed from the Church.

FOR ME PERSONALLY: it was awe-inspiring to witness the conclave and election. In many ways, seeing the living history of the Church unfold has enriched my faith.

There is so much unrest in the world, so much violence and so much secularism and persecution of the Christian faith. It is hard to imagine how God works in such dire situations. At times like this, many turn to the pope as a person who rises above this melee and brings us back to Jesus, who is the way, truth and life.

With the election of Pope Francis, I am reminded to trust in the providence of God that he will not abandon his Church, and that the Holy Spirit is always working through the people chosen to lead it.

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Category: Welcome Pope Francis