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.
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.