We have some fine young men studying for the priesthood. We were fortunate enough to not just hear from one, but from all three Phoenix seminarians studying for the priesthood in the 24 hours or so following the election of Pope Francis.
Since we were limited with space in print and they had similar reflections of their experience, we did not mention all of them by name in our special section on Pope Francis. I thought I would pass along here what they individually took precious time to share with me:
During the conclave: The seminary’s rector highly encouraged the seminarians to attend the opening Mass March 12. Fernando Camou, with his blessing, was one of the seminarians who skipped class to go. After that, Camou said classes were adjusted so they could be present for the noon and 7 p.m. releases of smoke. Some left class early Wednesday morning to wait for the smoke. Others watched a video feed from a classmate’s laptop. Dan Connealy, who was stuck in class, said he was quite relieved the smoke was black the morning of March 13. Kevin Grimditch spent most of the afternoon in St. Peter’s Square and returned about 6:45 p.m. for the evening smoke. “After ducking through the forest of umbrellas I found myself in the middle front of the square with some friends,” he wrote. Communal evening prayer was moved up 30 minutes so the seminarians could be there. The seminary posted photos of the experience on Flickr.
There was constant speculation at pranzo(lunch) and in between classes over who would be the next pope. It was interesting and exciting at class to hear people from other countries speculate on who they thought would be a good fit.
I was very fortunate to be in St. Peter’s Square when the white smoke went up. It was so exhilarating. I was not expecting the pope to be chosen so soon. When the smoke came up there was a second pause before the whole square erupted in applause and shouts. For that split second I remember thinking to myself, “Why isn’t the smoke turning black? They can’t have already chosen!” However, as people rushed forward I realized the pope had indeed been chosen and the chair of Peter was no longer vacant! We had a pope and we didn’t know who it was! I rushed forward with the crowd to get as close as possible. I could feel the crowd pushing me forward as the empty spaces quickly disintegrated. I lost track of the other seminarian I was with but quickly made friends with the people around me as we wondered who might come out on the balcony.
It had been raining steadily but in the next hour that followed the rain stopped and everyone put their umbrellas down. This was a huge help since they were obstructing everyone’s view, even with the screens set up in the square. When the cardinal deacon came out to announce the new Holy Father there was so much screaming I couldn’t hear the name. I quickly found out from those around me that it was Cardinal Bergoglio from Argentina and that he had taken the name Francis. It was good to have a new pope and he soon came out to greet us! It was amazing that right away he prayed. This was such a good sign to me to know that the pope’s first reaction amidst all the excitement was to pray.
The size of the crowd despite the cold, rainy weather, surprised Camou. “We were packed in like sardines,” he wrote. Still, he met up with Tempe priest Fr. John Muir, who shared his experience online and with several media outlets. Camou wrote:
When the smoke first came out it looked black, and I remember thinking, “Well, I’m not surprised. I didn’t expect to see white smoke tonight.” But then it quickly lightened and became bright white. The crowd started screaming and jumping. Overwhelming joy filled everyone! The level of excitement felt like watching the AZ Diamondbacks win the 2001 World Series plus the joy an orphan must feel like when he learns he’s been adopted!
It took another hour before they knew who the pope was. I don’t know if TV and online viewers felt the same way, but Camou said that time gap only felt like minutes because of the excitement.
When Pope Francis finally came out it was surreal. The anticipation was so thick. We saw him and everyone held their breath to hear what he was going to say. What struck me most of his first remarks was his emphasis on prayer. He was a father teaching his children to pray, with the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory be, and finally, silence. The silence was so powerful. I think, here, we have already a new tone for the New Evangelization, this prayerful and silent witness. That moment in the square, with hundreds of thousands of people praying in silence, you knew the Holy Spirit was at work in His Church.
Camou, too, noted that moment Pope Francis asked the people to pray for him to God that He would bless them “and Pope Francis made a deep bow… this time the crow went completely silent. you could have heard a pin drop. This was the moment that impacted me the most: the first thing our new pope does is leads the thousands of people in the square in silent prayer. So beautiful! Praise the Lord! For it is clear our Lord is alive and among us, working wonders before our eyes!… Let us play our part by supporting him in our prayers that he may continue to be faithful to the Holy Spirit.”
What was fascinating to learn about him?
Connealy: learning that he rode the bus in Argentina, even as a cardinal. It’s good to know right away that the new pope is a man of humble simplicity. He also seems to be unaffected by things going on around him, keeping a level head and keeping focused on doing God’s will.
Grimditch: The first thing I found out was he is a Jesuit, a community that has had a long service to the Church, and run the school here in Rome we attend. Yet the point in his biography that struck me was his simplicity and his desire to be close to the poor. Of course, his choice of the name of Francis speak loudly that he wants to bring us in this say path, a kind of evangelical poverty.
What challenges lay ahead for Pope Francis?
Connealy: The same ones Pope Benedict faced. “There is always the need to preach the gospel with love and joy, to be able to aid the people of God in their path to Jesus Christ. I doubt that anything is particularly easy as the holy father but it’s good to know that his life is focused on Jesus Christ and doing the will of God. I am delighted that I will be able to listen to the words of this humble man as he begins his new life as Pope Francis.”