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My Second Catholic Answers Conclave

In 2005, I was in a colleague’s office when another colleague came running down the hall, breathlessly announcing, “There’s white smoke!” I ran for a radio in my office, but an announcement came over the intercom. “We’re gathering in the conference room!” Table and chairs were shoved aside, people stood or sat on the floor, all eyes were glued to a tiny TV set that had very poor reception. 

When “Josephum” was announced as the new pope’s first name, I sucked in my breath. At the word “Ratzinger,” I and everyone else began screaming with excitement. We had a pope!

This time was a bit different. I was in my office, on the phone with a priest. We’d already joked that if word came through of a new pope, our business was done. Toward the end of our call, the priest, who works in a seminary, suddenly said, “The bells are ringing! They’re not supposed to be ringing right now.” We both scrambled to check online. When the priest found breaking news of white smoke, we hastily said goodbye and hung up.

This time staff convened in Catholic Answers’ library. Chairs are always set up in the library for staff meetings, so everyone had a place to sit. Those too excited to sit stood. Rather than a tiny TV, one of our technical support staff had set up EWTN’s live stream on his laptop to be projected onto the conference room wall. When I looked around and realized that the colleague with whom I’d heard news of white smoke eight years previously wasn’t there, I ran to find her. I burst into her office, and breathlessly announced, “We have a pope!” She too had been on the phone; she and her caller also hastily rang off.

Then all we could do was hurry up and wait. 

Finally, the doors to the balcony opened; we cheered. Out stepped Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the senior cardinal deacon, to announce the new pope. Unlike Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, Cardinal Tauran’s predecessor in the job eight years earlier, Cardinal Tauran did not throw in personal flourishes such as greeting the crowds in a multitude of languages. He did not pause dramatically to draw out the suspense. I found myself thinking later that the moment could have used a bit more flourish and dramatic suspense, given the immensity of the surprise awaiting us.

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum; habemus Papam: Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum, Dominum Georgium Marium Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Bergoglio qui sibi nomen imposuit Franciscum.

At “Georgium Marium,” I was puzzled. “Who the heck is this?” I thought, even though I had read through a list of the Latin forms of the first names of all of the cardinals just days before to be ready for this moment. It wasn’t until Cardinal Tauran said “Bergoglio” that I knew. From all the books I had read on the 2005 conclave, I knew this was the cardinal from Argentina whom many had said was the “runner-up” to Cardinal Ratzinger. He was now pope.

But there were bigger surprises to come. First, the papal name. “Franciscum”? Francis? That was a first. And then I suddenly remembered Cardinal Bergoglio was a Jesuit. I started to laugh. This was going to be fun! From everything I knew about him I assumed he’d drive his brothers in the Society of Jesus crazy.

But here again I was wrong. The Jesuits I saw online were ecstatic. Fr. James Martin, S.J., of America Magazine immediately took to Facebook to post his joy over the news. He has since written a fine piece on the import of the selection of Pope Francis to the Society, and what he thinks St. Ignatius’s own reaction might be:

St. Ignatius famously did not want his men to become bishops and even resisted the Vatican at times to prevent that from happening.  On the other hand, he was disponible enough to know that rigid rules needed to be broken.  Plus he was also devoted to doing anything he could for the church, and to ask his Jesuits to do the same.  In one of the founding documents of the Jesuits, Ignatius announces his intention to “serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth.”

Anything for the “Greater Glory of God,” as our motto goes, and for the service of the church, Ignatius would say.  So, frankly, I think St. Ignatius would be smiling at one of his Sons not only serving the Roman Pontiff, but being one. 

I sure am.

What has struck me most about our new pope’s election yesterday is how happy his election has made Catholics of good will across the spectrum of Catholic belief and culture. And that, I think, bodes well for Pope Francis’s pontificate. 

And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one (John 17:11).


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