Friday, March 15, 2013

Fingerprints of Providence: 3 amazing days

You couldn’t have scripted the three days I spent in Rome for the papal conclave any better than what actually panned out. From beginning to end, the trip had the tone of a pilgrimage and the fingerprints of God’s gracious--and dramatic!--providence all over it. 

Take, for example, some of the not-so-simple details of throwing together a trip to Rome on crazy short notice. Found convenient flights in a few hours. Found a hotel very close to St. Peter’s square. The manager told us we had booked his last room, and he was daily flooded with requests. 

The most dramatic aspect of the experience was the sheer unpredictability of the timing of everything. First, we didn’t know when the conclave was even going to start, and booked our flights based on our best guess. We arrived Sunday night. The opening Mass (Missa Pro Eligendo) was Tuesday morning, and the conclave began just hours later. 

But even more gut-wrenching was the looming uncertainty of when the new Holy Father would be elected. Every single moment of the trip we felt this concern build as a slow burn of anticipation. Granted, if the Pope had been elected after we left Rome--say, Thursday morning or evening, or Friday, or later--it would have been fine. Still a memorable experience, prayerful and all that. 

But when we realized at our very last opportunity for an election that the smoke filling the sky above the Sistine Chapel was in fact white--it first was convincingly black to our eyes--dejection turned into jubilation.  

Wednesday morning I was doing a live interview on Sirius XM radio. Mark Hart, the host and a friend, said at the end of the interview, when he realized how everything (for us, anyway!) came down to the evening ballots, said, “Let me say, brother to brother, that for your sake, I really hope the white smoke comes tonight, so you can experience it all in person.” I told him that’s I’d be okay with whatever God’s will is..but that it seemed strangely unlikely that God would bring me all the way to Rome for a conclave just to have me miss it by a ballot or two, and fly home to watch it on TV in Arizona. Obviously, that wasn’t the plan. 

Now, with tears in my eyes and cranberry juice in hand on flight home, it unmistakably strikes me: as a Catholic who loves the Church, a student of history who loves pivotal moments, a priest who needs the Pope’s guidance and authentic example of priesthood, and as a son who loves his Papa...I’m not sure I could be an ounce happier, this side of eternity.  



  1. AMAZING post, Fr. John!!! Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  2. Hear my confession for the insane jealousy I just engaged in? Haha God bless you!

  3. Yes, I too admit--FORGIVE ME FATHER, FOR I HAVE SINNED. Jealous, envy, coveting my neighbor's visit to Rome... but so very glad you shared all the details with us. It was totally PRECIOUS.

    We live in such an incredible age. During the conclave I was thinking back even just 100 yrs, say the election of St. Pius X in 1903. We had telephones but few had them. Even as a girl back in the 60s, I remember we called my Aunt Kay in England every Christmas and it took hours to get through via operator and you had to shout down the phone to be heard. Can you imagine how long it took for all the faithful to hear the Habemus Papam 100 yrs ago?? Weeks, months... some parts of the globe, maybe never??

    Even getting to the conclave was huge. The Pope dies. Word has to be sent out for all the Cardinals to gather. Telephone, telegraph... Of course, even just 100 years ago, I'm sure nearly all the Cardinals were from Europe. Even a heavily Catholic Archdiocese like Manila didn't get its first Cardinal until 1953. Imagine how long it took for the news to reach the Cardinal from Buenos Aires 100 yrs ago. Then the arduous journey to Rome and back. No planes. Very few had cars.

    We are SO BLESSED to live in this exciting age of instant news and communication. Go on your smart phone, book a flight and hotel, grab a flight to Rome and be there at the conclave with only a moment's notice. Then stand there in St. Peter's Square, take pictures and videos and within seconds, share them with your world via Facebook. Being 55 yrs old, this kind of boggles my mind.

    I've seen a lot of change in my lifetime. Just yesterday over lunch with 3 of my kids (age 19, 15, and 12) we were talking about technology and I told them we got our first color TV in 1972 at age 15. That scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy opens the door and suddenly the movie is in color?? It was ALL black and white for me until 1972. Also got our first automatic washer in 1972 (I was scared to death of our wringer washer!!) and automatic dryer (before that, we either hung clothes outside or during the winter, hung clothes from racks inside the house or went to the laundrymat). I learned to type on a manual typewriter in HS in the mid 70s. Personal hand-held communicators were totally futuristic. Limited to the elite like Captain Kirk and Spock.

    And my Dad before me?? He was born in 1913 (and passed away in 2004). Growing up in Cambridge, England, he remembered his half-brother coming home from WWI. He remembered running 5 miles to see his first airplane. He remembered riding in his first car... and his mother, labeled "buxom," would only ride in the middle to "balance it out." And his father before him, born in 1864, was personal assistant to Sir J.J. Thomson who discovered the electron. It's SO COOL looking up internet articles and seeing my grandfather's name in historic scientific articles. I'm astonished at how far we've come just since my grandfather's time.

    Back to 2013... our world is small. And I am so glad for it. I can lounge in the comfort of my cushy king-size bed with my 50" plasma TV with theatre sound and see the white smoke pour from the Sistine Chapel smoke stack. I hear and see the ringing bells. I can see the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square and viewing live, hearing dozens of languages and seeing flags from around the world present. Arizona has its own personal rep to the Vatican present just yards away from the balcony where Pope Francis appeared, as so many did before him. And we can experience being there vicariously just minutes later. My Catholic brothers and sisters around the world feel SO CLOSE. I truly feel a part of Christ's ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH.

    What a great time to be alive!! Thanks be to God.