And so it begins…

At 7:20 a.m., the seminarians and priests at the North American College lined the driveway in front of the Immaculate Conception Chapel, waving goodbye and “clapping-out” the 11 American Cardinals who left the college for the Casa Santa Marta today.  It was a morning of great excitement as we assured the cardinals of our prayers and support as they begin this monumental process of electing a new Pope.

If you have Facebook, the Vatican Information Service (English edition) posted video of the “clap-out.”

Here are some pictures from the PNAC photo service (all photos courtesy of Christopher Brashears):

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Also, many of us attended the Solemn Mass for the Election of the Supreme Pontiff this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica.  The Mass was attended by many priests, religious, seminarians, and lay-faithful throughout Rome, as well as those here in the Eternal City on pilgrimage.  I was able to capture some of the final moments, as the cardinals recessed out of the basilica.

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Now, we pray and we wait . . .for the smoke!

On another note:  Take a look at this excellent article by the New York Times on some of the seminarians at the North American College.

Pope Seàn?

It might come as a surprise that the Italian press is publicizing reports of the possibilities of an American pope, given long-held fears of “American hegemony” in ecclesial and world affairs.  Yet recent polls indicate that many Italians are hoping that Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, will be chosen as the Successor to St. Peter.  This speaks of the widespread affection and respect Cardinal O’Malley enjoys in Italy, as well as in other parts of the world.  Seen as a humble and sincere man, he is a favorite among many.  It is worth noting that the Italians have a great love for the Franciscans, beginning with St. Francis himself and, of course, the beloved Padre Pio, so it shouldn’t come as a complete shock that the Cardinale Cappuccino is making headlines.  In an interview, Cardinal O’Malley said he finds the attention amusing, but he knows the decision is in God’s hands and “looks forward to returning to Boston, having bought a roundtrip ticket.”

Of course, it bears reminding that the election of the new pope isn’t some sort of political game or bracket akin to March Madness.  As a former political science major, I can understand the desire to see the entire process in “electoral” terms, wanting to calculate probabilities against exit-poll research and popularity ratings.  The process, however, is much deeper.  As the cardinals remind us, this is a time of serious prayer and reflection, which no polling or campaigning can compromise.  Ultimately, it is in the hands of the Lord, of the God who never leaves His Bride, the Church.  Of course, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t work through human means.  After all, grace builds on nature, as the Thomistic dictum teaches us.  Former-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once related the following in a 1997 Bavarian television interview:

I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.

In a word, God’s choice through the instrumentality of the decisions of men.

If anything, however, we can take this abundance of support for Cardinal O’Malley as a great symbol of the widespread respect he maintains as a wise leader and shepherd, a holy man, a good and humble man — a man who has and will continue to have great spiritual influence on the Church universal.

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Sean Cardinal O’Malley invoking the final blessing on the congregation at Santa Maria della Vittoria. Also pictured are Deacons Tom MacDonald, Archdiocese of Boston (right) and John Connaughton, Diocese of Bridgeport, CT (left).

Below is some footage of Mass this morning at Cardinal O’Malleys titular Church, Santa Maria della Vittoria, the site of St. Teresa in Ecstasy, often known for its prevalence in recent cinematographic history following Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.

I had the privilege of serving Mass for His Eminence this morning.  The entire church was filled with Americans and Italians, as well as tons of members of the press.  The whole world was watching today — at least that’s what it felt like from behind the sanctuary.

VIDEO:  Cardinal Sean Titular Church Mass (3/10/2013)

Farewell, Papa

At about 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 28, seminarians and priests joined Cardinal Dolan, Bishop Zubik, and Msgr. Checchio, our rector, atop the roof of the North American College to wave goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI as he departed to Castel Gandolfo by helicopter.  Waving American and Bavarian flags, the seminarians cheered in gratefulness as the Holy Father passed above us, while others held signs that said “We will miss you!”  At 8:00 p.m. that evening, Pope Benedict became Bishop-Emeritus of Rome, and the See of St. Peter was deemed vacant.

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“Not mine, not ours, but His.” Pope Benedict XVI’s Last General Audience & Angelus

Pope Benedict on his decision:

When, almost eight years ago, on April 19th, [2005], I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry, I held steadfast in this certainty, which has always accompanied me. In that moment, as I have already stated several times, the words that resounded in my heart were: “Lord, what do you ask of me? It a great weight that You place on my shoulders, but, if You ask me, at your word I will throw out the nets, sure that you will guide me” – and the Lord really has guided me. He has been close to me: daily could I feel His presence. [These years] have been a stretch of the Church’s pilgrim way, which has seen moments joy and light, but also difficult moments. I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of ​​Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been – and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.

-Pope Benedict XVI, Last General Audience, Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Video I captured of the shorter English greeting from the Holy Father in St. Peter’s Square:

Here a few of us cheer for the Pope as he circles around the Square (Pictures are Matthew Rensch from the Diocese of Burlington and Luke Doyle from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas):

Reflections from the Pope’s Last Sunday Angelus:

An estimated 200,000 people flocked to St. Peter’s Square for the Pope’s final Angelus with the faithful.

As I entered the square—barely getting in because there were so many people—I looked around me and saw nothing but faces everywhere. There wasn’t a free space available. A small boy came up to me and tugged on my coat, motioning in back of me. It was Lucas Gondreau, the son of my professor and friend Dr. Paul Gondreau from Providence College, who was at the Angelus with his wife, Christiana, and family. Talk about Divine Providence! It was a great joy to see the Gondreaus and to share with them this moment in history. Dr. Gondreau asked a very telling rhetorical question, “Tell me, what 85 year old man can summon a crowd like this?” I would think less than two.

The Holy Father spoke, and the crowds interrupted him sporadically, clapping and yelling “Grazie, Santo Padre!” We were listening to the Pope, we were learning from him again.

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Ash Wednesday

Below is a video and picture of the Holy Father recessing out of St. Peter’s basilica for his final Mass as Pope.

Video of the recession:

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When our rector notified us that we were able to attend the last Mass of the Holy Father in St. Peter’s Basilica, we immediately knew what our plans would be that day:  we would go see the Pope.

The entire Mass was filled with pilgrims from around the world.  The aisles was packed to the brim, with limited standing room around the apses of the basilica.  When the procession began before Mass began, I remember looking at the Holy Father, and I saw what appeared to me to be deeply serious.  He was looking straight ahead of him, and was not distracted by the hundreds of cameras and flashes attempting to get a “last shot” of the Holy Father during his final days as Pope.   Yet what might appear deeply distressing was not at all unique:  the Pope was about to celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass, the beginning of the Church’s most sacred liturgical season.  He was looking ahead to the altar—to the task before him.  He was leading us in prayer.  Again, he was teaching us.

The Mass was filled with emotion, both during the Holy Father’s homily, as well as following communion.  The woman next to me—who, to my surprise, told me she was the granddaughter of a Venerable lay woman (on the path to sainthood) from Italy—began to cry.  She told me in Italian, and here I paraphrase: “I will miss him very much.  He was such a gift to the Church.”  Her tears did not end after communion and before the final blessing.  When Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State, rose to address the Holy Father, the sublimity of the moment was palpable.  He approached the Holy Father, kissed his ring, and thanked him.  The congregation began to clap, and then stand.  The clapping went on and on—people were crying, smiling, looking upon him with faint eyes.  The clapping continued, and could have gone on for 10 or 15 minutes, until the Holy Father again taught us, with a  smile, “Grazieritorniamo alla preghiera.”  (Thank you, let us return  to prayer).  Again he was saying, Let us pray to God.  This is not about me.  This is not about us.  This is about Him who leads us all to Himself in communion.  We do not give up our identity or our dignity when we humble ourselves before him, and deny ourselves—no, we gain all of this, our dignity and our identity in perfect freedom, when we give everything to God and for God and His people.

As the Holy Father recessed out, I decided not to take video on my phone.  I just looked at him, and thanked him silently.  As he turned and left the nave into the sacristy, I realized that the final days of his pontificate were real.  We would begin saying goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI, and it would hurt.  But he would smile at us, and teach us along the way.

Sede Vacante Incipit Nunc

Seal of the Holy See during the Interregnum Period ["Between Reigns" (of Popes)]

Seal of the Holy See during the Interregnum Period ["Between Reigns" (of Popes)]

Friday, 1 March MMXIII

A Word of Introduction to this Blog

                At 8:00 p.m. on February 28, 2013, the Roman Catholic Church officially entered into the sede vacante period (literally, “vacant seat”) – that is, the only time in the life of the Church when there is no one occupying the Chair of St. Peter.  In a word, the Church is without a Pope.  She is without her spiritual and temporal leader, her supreme pastor, her servant of the servants of God.  She is without the Vicar of Christ.  And so now the Lord entrusts His Church to the prayerful discernment of the Sacred College of Cardinals, who will choose a worthy successor to St. Peter in the coming days – a servant in the Lord’s vineyard to guide God’s Church in wisdom and fidelity during the years to come.

These recent days have filled us with a plethora of emotions, from the painstakingly surreal to the sublime.  Amidst the obvious excitement surrounding such a momentous time in the history of the Church, as well as the obvious intrigue which precedes the mystery surrounding the conclave and the election of a new Pope, there is also a deep solemnity to these days.  I would even go as far to say that these days are somber.  They are meditative – not purely reflective or nostalgic, but meditative in the true sense of the word:  we are drawn to mental prayer, in union with the Church universal.  For all of us, it was a moment of utter shock to learn of the Holy Father’s resignation – as if a meteor had struck us from above, yet we were left unaided as to its origins, from where it came, and the effects it would have on the Church.  We were surprised, even shocked.  We were confused, and many of us remained incredulous to the news.  How could the Successor of St. Peter, the Holy Father, the Pope and Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church, resign?  Was it possible?  Of course it was canonically legal, but the precedent for such an endeavor, which had its roots in the 13th century, didn’t seem to help any.  Our hearts were filled with a weight unknown to many, since the circumstances were so unique:  we were going to lose one of the greatest figures in modern Church history—our leader, our Holy Father—and the emotions attached to such a loss were real.  And yet, we were not losing Benedict at all, for he was still among us, and would remain with us until the end.  This meteor of a decision struck us hard, but it struck us not as a destructive force, annihilating everything in its range.  It struck us to the core of our hearts, like an infusion of grace in the soul, teaching us that such a “monumental decision” in the life of the Church – a “game-changer,” as the political pundits termed it – came from the Lord.  Pope Benedict XVI would leave the Chair of St. Peter – the man whom we have come to know and deeply love for these past years; a man of great wisdom and fidelity, compassion and fraternal charity – and yet, another will assume the seat which we now term vacante.   God always provides for His Church—always.

Some claimed that Benedict was “retiring” in the midst of criticism and scandal.  Others, like the New York Times, went as far as to say “good riddance” to a man whose allegiance to the truth amidst the storm of cultural critique they found reprehensible.  But for those of us—and this is no small number—who knew him as our Pope, who had studied his words , who were formed under him, who prayed for him daily, and who heard his name recited in the Canon of every Mass, knew that this was a man who had made his decision with great faith and trust.  We who knew what this man stood for knew that this moment was precisely in line with his person – he was teaching us.  He made this decision not for himself, certainly not.  He did not even make it because he didn’t “want the papacy” (no one wants the papacy, and yet he accepted it and thus loved it in the fullest sense of the word).  He made it because he knew that, in conversation with the Lord, this was for the good of the Church.  And thus his final teaching moment—the last lesson of the German professor made Pope, was an extraordinary act of humility.  We will surely miss him–he was a father to all of us, and we loved him as spiritual sons and daughters.  He was a giant of a man who will surely not be forgotten, but we know that he has made the right decision from the depths of prayer.  There is nothing more that I can say here in words, for the meaning and the significance of such an act of humility and love speaks for itself.  Yet the words of Benedict himself, the Pope-emeritus, seem fitting here:

 I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.

A few of you have mentioned that I should keep a blog so as to catalogue the events here in Rome, which I intend to do, and provide pictures and videos.  But I also will use these pages for my own personal reflection on the events of these days, for they remain dear to all of us, and some catharsis is warranted when this sort of thing occurs in the life of a person, in the life of a Church.

We pray for His Holiness, Benedict XVI, Pope-emeritus and Bishop-emeritus of Rome, and we pray for the sacred College of Cardinals, that with the proper discernment and the grace of the Holy Spirit, they might write into the annals of the Church the name of the man the Lord has chosen to shepherd his flock in the third millennium, as those who have come before him have done with great fidelity and love.  And now we wait.