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.