Conclave day, March 13th, 2013 if I’m not mistaken (the Conclave itself kicked-off on Tuesday, March 12th in the afternoon, right after the morning mass held in St. Peter’s Basilica with all 115 cardinals in honor of the Conclave itself).
There had already been on Tuesday two “black smokes” (next to the Basilica a small chimney is set up. From there the cardinals’ ballots are burned. Black smoke means no new pope. White smoke instead means “Habemus Papam”, we have a pope!).
That day it was raining. Obviously, there’s no one on the face of the planet that can tell the folks over at the Vatican when they should vote and elect a new pope, so there wasn’t any way to really know if by lunchtime they’d choose a new pope or not. I had a gut feeling though that I’d miss a great opportunity of that Wednesday afternoon they’d vote for the new pope, and I wasn’t there, so by 2.30 pm I arrived at St. Peter’s square and with my NBC pass I made my way to the top of the roof of the Gianicolo garage, which is located right next to the square itself and which hosted several international tv networks, such as NBC.
I naturally brought along my camera equipment and a really shitty cheap umbrella which ended up falling to pieces! To make a long story short, I was there for 6 hours under the rain. So-called “experts” said that nawwwww, the voting would have taken place on the following Thursday and not on Wednesday evening. Mother nature was calling in the meantime, and I had to VERY urgently go to the washroom. It was around 6.50 pm, more or less. What to do considering that at around 4.30 pm, when there should have been voting going on by the cardinals, it instead didn’t happen, and I was going to run the risk of missing out on that famous white smoke?
I couldn’t very well pee down below on the thousands of people that had been gathered in the square for the event, so I scurried quickly down the stairs to a washroom. Ahh, what relief, when all of a sudden as I was holding my you-know-what in my hands, my cell phone rang: it was Dani who was asking me where I was!! Bloody hell, the phone nearly fell into the can! So I scurried again back up at the speed of light and lucky that I did too: about 60 seconds, more or less, after I got back up, there was the famous white smoke! Yes indeed, THE holiest piss of my life!
You can be an atheist, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever, but trust me, there’s NO place in the world you want to be when a new pope is elected rather than at St. Peter’s square! And trust me, the event is very, very exciting. And for two reasons. No. 1 because after a few black smokes come out, when that white smoke does finally shoot up into the sky, you know that there’s finally a new pope. No. 2 because after that first piece of good news, the question is now the following: so who exactly is the new pope (by the way, compared to the 2005 Conclave which had elected Ratzinger as St. Peter’s successor, the Vatican folks had decided this time to put special chemicals into the tiny furnace in order to make the white smoke more distinguishable from the black one. On a few occasions in 2005 the black smoke that came out looked grey instead of white, and so people weren’t sure if a new pope was in fact elected or not)?
About one hour after the white smoke came out, one of the cardinals in Latin read out the famous phrase that Rome and the world was anxiously waiting for: “Habemus Papam”! Apparently, the newly-elected pope is then changed from his red cardinal robe into his new white papal one by assistants in the “room of tears”, appropriately named because he breaks down in tears (as though to say: “Oh my God, I’m REALLY the new pope”!). Let’s face it, it must quite the shock for the average human being to know that you’re now the leader of some 1.2 billion Catholics out there!
And then shortly after, there appeared to the entire world the new pope, Argentina’s Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would take on the papal name of “Francesco” in honor of that famous Franciscan saint over in Assisi (I was rather happy as Bergoglio is a Jesuit, and my first 8 years of education in Canada were with the Jesuits at St. Ignatius of Loyola in Winnipeg! Looks like we’re in good company along with Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Voltaire, Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe and the president of the European Central Bank, Italy’s Mario Draghi, just to name a few).
Seeing that Bergoglio apparently only has one lung, his voice that evening wasn’t too loud. I really couldn’t make out who he was until Dani again called me to ask me if I was happy (I had packed my small Canadian flag that day hoping that the winner would instead be Canada’s Ouellet). She said his name and I said, “Who”?
Once again, the Vatican took the entire world by surprise by choosing someone who up until that very same evening was virtually unknown! Ahh, the mysterious ways of the Vatican….
I made my way down to the square which was naturally packed and in a very, very festive mood. In fact, with Argentine tourists flocking to the square and waving their national flags, it sort of looked like Argentina had just won a World Cup title!
Quite the 6-wait on March 13th, 2013!