WATCHING, WAITING, PRAYING …
A JOURNEY TO THE PAPAL CONCLAVE
By: Craig Smith
University of San Diego, Class of 2004
Current: Ph.D. Student, Fordham University, Religious Education (expected 2014)
You know, each time I pray I always begin with the words, “Lead me, Lord.” I hope for and seek God’s guidance in the big picture of my life but also in the little moments within the journey of each day. I never in my wildest dreams would have expected that very prayer to lead me somewhere physically, to an actual place. But lead me it did, to Vatican City for the papal conclave and the election of a new pope. When asked by many why I traveled all the way to Rome, by myself, for this historic event I often replied, “To pray. To hopefully and joyfully pray for the future of our Church.” It just felt like the place for me to be, in that place at that moment in time.
I spent most of two whole days in St. Peter’s square that week. Watching, waiting, praying. Each time smoke appeared, it was as if the entire crowd collectively stopped breathing. Like time just stood still. Is it white? Are there bells ringing? Do we have a new pope? It was that third, charming time that it actually happened and the crowd thundered with cheers, laughter and jubilation.
There is nothing like it. Those minutes, while we were waiting to greet our new pontiff, seemed like an eternity. And when Cardinal Bergoglio’s name was said and his choice to be called Francis announced, there was chaos, faithful chaos. A new continent? A new name? A new order? Even before he stepped out onto that balcony, this pope was already a trailblazer.
Pope Francis is someone who embodies humility with a holiness that inspires. He is not “holier than thou” but “holier because of thou.” Whoever “thou” is. But most explicitly he cares for and is truly WITH the poor.
You know, desire changes everything. In my years, I have (unfortunately, but admittedly) begrudgingly volunteered at soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters. I never really enjoyed it. But a couple weeks ago, just after returning from Rome, I worked at the soup kitchen at my parish in New York City. My entire perspective had been changed by the words and example of our Holy Father. I could so clearly (and desired to) acknowledge God's presence within the guests of the kitchen. If I ever doubted it, I just took a moment, clasped my hands in prayer and bowed to the holiness within the person I was serving.
My pilgrimage to Rome has helped me experience God in a new way. It was one in which I witnessed all that is good, all that is God, and I am eternally grateful. Never in my wildest dreams could I have hoped for such an experience. I think sometimes God dreams even bigger dreams for us than we could ever dream for ourselves.
To tell you the truth, even after all of these years I think I sometimes doubted God in my life because I felt unworthy, unholy or undeserving. But everything has changed. I am certain now, more than ever, of God's presence in my life, the life of others and the life of our church.Not because I am or we are more holy, more worthy or more deserving. Everything has changed because I am now more willing to acknowledge and receive the love of God.
Everything has changed.
I am watching each day to see how Pope Francis will show us a new way to be for and with Christ in our world.
" If a man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit."