Nero. Black smoke. The next smoke signal is expected sometime this evening. It could come around the 5 o’clock hour; but, if there is smoke before 7pm Rome time, then that means we have a new pope. Should that happen, I have to book it into the square. Bottom line: We’re on deck, folks. So, keep watch!
At the moment, I’m deep inside the “SalSta” – Vaticanese for the Sala Stampa. Just out the door is the Via della Conciliazione and St. Peter’s Square itself, which is teeming with faithful pilgrims. So, I’m just several feet from where it is all going to happen in just a little while.
The “SalSta” has been closed to most journalists this month. Just a handful of the world’s Vatican watchers are allowed to gather here to do their work. You have to go through a special accrediting process and possess exclusive credentials to get inside this place. A veritable militia of armed guards stands vigil at the door. Aside from some 30 or so journalists, the rest of the five thousand media personnel here in Rome this month have to work out of the Media Center at the Pope Paul VI Hall.
As I write, I am sitting on the floor alongside filing cabinets and banks of news booths for major media outlets like the AP, Reuters, and a handful of others. The small number of media desks here has been claimed. Whoever is able to get into the “SalSta” is here. There is the expectation that something big could happen this afternoon. We’ll see, though. Truth be told, no one knows when there will be white smoke. But, the sense in this room is that we’ll see fumo bianco sooner rather than later. Perhaps, we’ll see it this afternoon or evening; or, perhaps, tomorrow.
Regardless, the Spirit knows. He knows and searches all things. Our task is to get on our knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament and to intercede for the cardinals electing the new pope and the man about to present himself at the central loggia as il nuovo papa – the new pope. We’ll meet him soon enough.
Outside the “SalSta,” 20 and 30-something Catholics file into St. Peter’s Square. Their numbers are impressive. Representing all the corners of the globe and speaking scores of languages, it feels like an impromptu World Youth Day. Among them, Brazilians are making an impressive showing. Wearing their national flags, JP2-Generation Brazilians chant “Scherer! Scherer!” We’ll see if we get another pope from “un paese lontano.”
After black smoke billows out of the Sistina, reporters refocus their attention on the square itself. All around the piazza, reporters interview 20 and 30-something pilgrims. Young Catholics are taking to television, radio, and the new social media, exuding their enthusiasm for their faith and recounting their love of Christ and the Church. For a moment, St. Peter’s Square becomes the world’s largest anchor desk in the service of the new evangelization. And, the JP2 Generation broadcasts the real news of the morning to the four corners of the globe.
In a short while, those same 20 and 30-something pilgrims will quiet their voices in order to listen to Peter. But, for now, their infectious cheerfulness resounds around the piazza. The JP2-Generation has arrived here in Rome. It stands on deck, waiting for Peter.