A Moment in Time

Witnessing History: The Selection of Pope Benedict XVI

*apologies for the quality of our photos here. These are from 2005, when we were still working with a 2 MP camera. Sounds like the stone age!

In April 2005, I celebrated the defense of my thesis with what I considered a well-deserved trip to Italy. Barry and I flew into Venice, where we stayed three nights in one of the shabbiest hostels we’ve ever run across, then took the train into Rome. In addition to beautiful scenery, we also witnessed the most impressive verbal gymnastics ever – a lively Italian gentleman spoke non-stop to his wife for the entire four hour ride.

Now, neither of us are Catholic, but you’d have to live in the most remote jungles of Papua New Guinea to avoid hearing news of Pope John Paul II’s passing and the subsequent papal selection process. However, neither of us really thought much about it, except for a passing concern that crowds would be an issue.
Mother Nature celebrated our arrival in the Eternal City by showering us with thunderstorms immediately after dark. Our budget accommodations – Tiber Camping – were located a bit outside of the city (read: commuter train to suburbs), but were fun and affordable, if a little time-consuming travel-wise. The rain inspired us to partake in a bit more wine than we might normally have indulged ourselves … resulting in a later-than-anticipated wake up time. I was very upset, because in my mind, we were to have an early start at the Coliseum. Barry came up with the best suggestion ever: let’s skip the Coliseum and head over to the Vatican.

We went through the museum, which was oddly near-empty. We found out later that the crowds were gathered in St. Peter’s square waiting for the cardinals to vote, but at the time, all we knew was that the halls of this ornate museum were exceptionally easy to manage. After four hours or so (which is about as long as I can stand such places, no matter how awe-inspiring their collections might be), we wandered out to see the actual cathedral, and were immediately reminded that the papal selection was still going on. We decided to visit Pope John Paul II’s grave, but were quickly deterred by the line. Instead, we proceeded past the crowds and TV screens and cameras directly into the church.

After just a few moments, the intensity of the parishioners made me feel uncomfortable, like I didn’t belong. I convinced Barry that we needed to leave, but we were almost immediately stopped by several very Mafioso-looking men in black suits, wearing earbuds and oozing authority. They formed a blockade, allowing the procession of cardinals walk by. Yep, they filed right past us and headed straight for the passage to the Sistine Chapel.

We couldn’t believe what we had just seen, so we walked out to the entryway of the church to gather our thoughts when more of the Mafioso types rushed out to corral us (and a few other passes-by as well). A great cheer went up through the crowd right then – white smoke! The new pope had been selected! The men ushered us straight into almost front row seats … they weren’t worried about who we were, all they cared about was that we were out of the way.

Our photo gallery should give you an idea of what that event was like. Even on a gray and rainy day, so many people came to witness the naming of the Catholic Church’s new leader. It really was a beautiful event, and the large crowd developed a strange sense of community as we all watched events unfold. Now that the church is about to begin the process again, I thought it was a good time to share our story as Catholics around the world prepare for the selection of their new Pope.

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