Arrivederci Roma!

Pope Francis souvenirs on sale in Rome. (CNS photo/Lauren Colegrove)

Pope Francis souvenirs on sale in Rome. (CNS photo/Lauren Colegrove)

Being in Rome the past two and a half weeks was a little bit of a time warp.

When I arrived March 4 to join the CNS Rome bureau in their conclave-election-installation coverage there was so much unknown and plenty of speculation in the air about who would be the new pope. Few had their sights on Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina.

Fast forward to March 13, a cold rainy evening in Rome. The crowd in St. Peter’s Square stood around talking, praying, shifting their weight from foot to foot. One person likened it to waiting for the ball to drop in New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve. The big difference was: everyone knows exactly when the ball will drop; no one had any idea when they might see smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney.

Plenty of the Vatican smoke watchers seemed to have some degree of inside knowledge. When smoke didn’t appear by 5:30 p.m., pretty much everyone thought it would be black later that night. They made plans to come back the next day and hoped it would be white in the morning, not the evening.

Of course the “experts” ended up being wrong.

I had also assumed there wouldn’t be a definitive vote that night and had worked myself to the perimeter of the square to make for an easy exit once the predicted black smoke appeared on one of the Jumbotron television screens.

I actually had fallen prey to this false advice even before going to the square that night taking only a partially-used reporter’s notebook and one ink pen. The thing is — and I should know this from covering countless March for Life events — ink pens don’t work so well in the cold and rain.

After nearly two hours in the square, I finally asked an Italian woman, by miming how my pen didn’t work, if she had a pen I could use. In perhaps the first miracle of the night, she somehow got what I was saying and indeed found a pen for me at the bottom of her purse.

Pen in hand, I called the CNS booth in the Vatican press office to see if they wanted any of my quotes for the second-day vote story. While talking to Rome bureau chief Frank Rocca, I saw smoke on the screen, screamed in his ear that it was white and then joined the wave of people who immediately ran to get as close to the basilica as possible, and then some, with plenty of pushing and shoving when the crowd reached an impasse.

Since then, all is a blur. The pope was announced; he rode the bus back with the cardinals afterward. He met with cardinals and journalists. He celebrated Mass in a small church just inside the Vatican. He said his first Angelus. He had his inauguration Mass. He met with ecumenical leaders.

“It seems like a month since the pope was elected,” Onismo Makova, a seminarian from Zimbabwe told me prior to the inauguration Mass since we recognized each other from an interview prior to the Angelus.

Amen to that, I thought.

After the pope’s Mass yesterday, life in Rome seemed to go back to normal, almost immediately. Streets were washed clean as soon as the pilgrims cleared the square. Tour guides and souvenir shops were back in full force.

By today, most of the 5,000 plus extra journalists in town were gone and construction crews were dismantling the media platforms down the street from St. Peter’s Basilica.

This morning St. Peter’s square was getting set up for Palm Sunday, complete with trees and bushes around the square’s obelisk. Congratulatory banners and signs for Pope Francis were still hanging in the city and shops were selling Pope Francis postcards, rosaries, magnets and T-shirts.

For now, of course, it is still a honeymoon period for Pope Francis.

One person I interviewed showed cautious optimism about what the new pope would bring to the church, but, like almost everyone else, he couldn’t help but take in some of the enthusiasm about him.

“We should buckle our seat belts and enjoy the ride,” he said.

Indeed. The crowd may be leaving the Eternal City, but we’ll hang on tight for what’s ahead.

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6 Responses to Arrivederci Roma!

  1. Duane Lamers says:

    There seems to be a lot of symbolism that might portend what this papacy will look like.

    Pictures from his days in Buenos Aires show him wearing the same miter that he has worn for most events since arriving in Rome. He has yet to be seen wearing the knee-length lace rochet and a mozetta (red cape, with or without ermine trim) over it. He’s wearing black trousers, socks and shoes and not the calf-length white “capris” that previous popes always wore, thereby revealing the white stockings and the red shoes. A simple pectoral cross, too. One photo shows him, too, wearing a white shirt without French cuffs, just buttoned, beneath his simar (caped cassock). Waiting for the cape to disappear, too.

    I’ll not be surprised, either, if his sash is not embroidered with his coat of arms but remains unadorned as it has been up to this point. Nor will I be surprised if summer sojourns in the Dolomites are replaced by a week or so in Buenos Aires and elsewhere in Argentina..

  2. A flight to Buenos Aires would cost money he did not wish to be spent on his installation. Security from the Holy See and in Argentina.

  3. Jim says:

    Yes, That is probably what VP Biden was saying when he left Rome. But why did he go in the first place? He said it was “to save my soul”. But he really doesn’t believe in the teachings of the Church or he would not have betrayed the Bishops of the US regarding the HHS mandate. So why did he go? Why does he stick around and claim to be in communion with the rest of us when communion requires giving witness to our faith?

  4. JJ says:

    Nothing is Over+++
    The Advance is still Running Head On+++
    One World One Body of Christ.
    Catholicism In Jesus Name+++

    Thanks* A P O’beachain for your clear contribution at this Catholic Blog.

  5. Yae says:

    God Bless Papa Francis. No matter if he foregoes the red shoes or the mozzetta, JPII did the same. If I could help Papa Francis dress I would respect his choices but ask him to at least wear the knee-length lace rochet to cover up his shirt and the black pants, nothing more. ^^
    But you know what matters more to me than the red shoes and the mozzetta? He wears the mantle of the most Holy Virgin! Just like JPII did.
    I miss Papa Benedict too but now, like him, I pledge my fidelity and my obedience to to Papa Francis.
    I hope when they meet together this coming Saturday, it iwll be of great benefit to both. God bless them both!

  6. JJ says:


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