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Ahead of this morning’s Missa Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice, faithful streamed into St. Peter’s square. A sizeable number of them started arriving before dawn. Lines heading into the basilica circled around the square at least once. Young pilgrims constituted the largest group attending this morning’s event. Among them, African and Asian pilgrims made a considerable showing. I sat alongside religious sisters from Asia, most of them under their mid-30s.
Before heading into St. Peter’s basilica, I spoke with a priest-student from the Biblicum, Rome’s foremost center for studies on Sacred Scripture. We discussed cardinal candidates. He favored Marc Cardinal Ouellet, the Emeritus Archbishop of Toronto in Canada and the current Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. When asked about his choice, he indicated he was an admirer of the man’s faith. The 30-something priest-student hailed from sections of Africa where Christian persecution is rampant. He realizes that an age of persecution requires a shepherd with a great deal of personal faith.Inside the basilica, I found a seat alongside a 20-something German woman. Less than one week ago, she joined Catholic pilgrims coming to Rome at the last minute. Although she is not Catholic, she felt drawn to the events in Rome. Her Pentecostal faith is active and strong, despite widespread secularism back home. After we recited the rosary together, she told me that ‘we need a pope who can be the pope of us all.’ A 30-something Catholic gentleman sat close to us. He arrived from Baltimore at the last minute. Friends had helped him afford the international trip.
As the cardinals recessed from the basilica, I was conscious of the fact that one of the men walking in front of me was about to be elected pope. Heading out of the basilica, amidst a sea of pilgrims, I happened to talk with an older man from the global south. I asked him about his hopes for the future pope. He said, “I hope he will keep the world awake to God.” It occurred to me that the new pope will find allies in that task in the teeming masses of ‘JP2 Generation’ pilgrims here in Rome this month.
Aggiornamento: The smoke tonight was black. But, inside the Sala Stampa and the Media Center at the Vatican, white smoke is expected sometime within the next 48 hours. The rumor is that we will have a new pope before the weekend. Of course, we do not know who it will be, but the names being whispered here are Scola, Scherer, Tagle, and Dolan. Of course, other names surface, too. Again, we don’t know who it is going to be, but the Spirit does. Let us pray for his guidance.
At the Mass for the Election of the Roman Pontiff this morning, Cardinal Sodano talked about the vocation to love and the need to dwell within the communion of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI used to claim that the non-ordained faithful should not see themselves as the collaborators of bishops and priests but as co-responsible with them for the being and action of the Church.
Wouldn’t it be a tremendous gift to the new pope if we pledged to set out into the deep with him, doing our part in the cause of the new evangelization and seeking – in our corners of the world – to build a culture of life and a civilization of love?
Inside the square, JP2 Generation pilgrims are making that pledge. I talked with a group of pilgrims from the Philippines. They told me they would love to see their Cardinal Tagle elected pope. But, they said that – whoever is elected – they will honor him with their obedience and love. What simple faith! What beautiful trust!
More smoke signals are expected tomorrow. There will be smoke at noon (7AM ET) and again at 7:00pm (2PM ET). There could be smoke earlier, however. Let us keep watch!
John Paul Shimek is our pilgrim journalist in Rome. He is a graduate student in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical JPII Institute at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.