When I was a college sophomore, long ages ago (she quipped, with tongue firmly in cheek), Pope John Paul II went home. I was, like many other Catholics, especially young Catholics, deeply affected by his passing and could not imagine having a different pope than the one I had known my whole life.
On a Tuesday morning, about two weeks after John Paul's death, a week and a half since his burial, and a day since the Conclave had begun, I was passing through the student center between classes. It was my habit to get something fast and unhealthy to eat while doing the reading I'd put off to the last possible. There was a study lounge that had once been a church, and despite the taupe paint and aisles of couches rather than pews, it still had a peaceful stillness about it that made it my go-to after I was done eating. If memory serves, that's where I was headed when I got a call (perhaps it was a text?) from my mom.
"There's white smoke!"
I stopped dead in my tracks. Where's the nearest tv?, I thought,and spun around, bolting back to the food court. Thankfully one of the monitors was already on a news network, because at that moment I had no qualms whatsoever with changing it from MTV, no matter how many people were watching. Suddenly oblivious to my peers, I dragged a chair under the TV and turned the volume up as loud as it would go, which still barely carried over the din of shuffling, munching, and gossip. My mom and a church friend were both sending me play-by-play texts as I stood under the TV with my hands over my heart and my jaw hung open.
I'd made it in time to catch that remarkable announcement: "Habemus Papam!" The sense that I was caught up with a billion other Catholics and untold other interested parties in a monumental moment grew as I watched the scores of faithful in St. Peter's doing exactly the same thing I was doing. I remember hardly being able to breath, and laughing at myself because I was about to start crying in the middle of Trabant. I never cry.
I thought, "I wonder if it's Ratzinger." His was one of the few "candidate" faces I was familiar with because he had presided at John Paul II's funeral, which I had stayed up all night to watch. I had decided I liked him.
And sure enough, his was the name called. He would now be called Benedict, and as he emerged onto the balcony, I found myself grinning ear to ear (probably looking utterly nuts to my more secularly minded bretheran), and excited. For what, I didn't know. Probably whatever it was God had in store for us through this man.
Last week, just days before the third anniversary of his election, as I was sitting in Nationals Stadium waiting for the Holy Father's arrival, my mind wandered back to that day and I again felt that unique sense of unity. Again, I simultaneously teared up and smiled.
God never disappoints.