Thursday, April 21, 2005

And I was there (Part II)

A continuation of my account of the night that Benedict XVI was elected Pope.
(I beg the indulgence of my readers for any infelicities of grammar, spelling or phrasing - I should, but don't, proof-read long posts like this)

His speech given, the new Pontiff seemed almost at a loss for what to do. It must be strange receiving the adulation of such a crowd for the first time in one's life. He waved, he smiled, and then (in his precise German way)
'We will now continue with the Blessing.'
I could never imagine his predecessor saying that in the way he did. It perhaps says something about the man that he wanted to get on with the business at hand. John Paul II would, perhaps, have had an ad lib for the crowd or have soaked up the applause for a little longer. Papa Ratzinger seemed slightly embarassed and wanted to move on to the Urbi et Orbi Blessing. I grinned inwardly - he might not have the natural 'showmanship' of his predecessor, but that glimpse of a reserved man thrust into the public spotlight doing his best under unfamilar conditions certainly won my heart.

In his distinctive singing voice he bestowed the Apostolic Indulgence and gave the blessing - his first as Pope. The crowd dutifully fell silent as he began and replied with hearty amens to each of the prayers. I have never felt so privileged to be in Rome before. Here we were, the Roman Church and the Universal Church gathered around our new Pastor, the 264th sucessor of Saint peter at the moment he exercised the Petrine power of the keys for the first time.
After the blessing, he received the salute from the Swiss Guards and the Italian military and then turned back into St Peter's, pausing only briefly for one last look behind him at the cheering crowd.

I knew we'd see no more of him that night, so I immediately sought to leave the Square via the Porta Anglelica. I knew a very good restaurant (a little secret frequently mainly by locals) nearby and I was going to celebrate! There was no point in hanging around the square and realising too late that there was no spare table availible anywhere. However, it was impossible to leave the square. The Italian police were overwhelmed. Many of us inside the square wanted to leave, but thousands of people were still arriving, hoping for a view of the new Pope. Gridlock! Even the carabineri band were caught in the crush and there was something comical to see their old-fashioned plumed hats above the head of the crowds. An old man speaking the Roman dialect explained to his neighbour that the Pope was hungry and had to go and eat now - I was amused to hear him say 'maniare' instead of the more correct Italian 'mangiare.'
After about 20 minutes, we were able to get out. I dashed to the restaurant and found myself to be the first customer. It's a small place, run by a married couple in their sixties. Their daughter is a student and helps out there - whenever there's a lull in work she brings out her books and begins to study. The 'mama' saw my grin and sat me down in what was the best table in the restaurant that night - the one with a direct view of the television. I had a real feast - game-sauce on toast, followed by a large steak in pepper sauce, a creme caramel and a coffee. This was an evening to enjoy - and even though I didn't have anyone to share my meal (I was dining Papal-style!) with, I didn't mind. I could see the coverage of events in the square, reports about Cardinal Ratzinger, international reaction and I could also eavesdrop on the conversations of the others arriving who were analysing what this new Pope would mean. I was also thrilled to see various friends from different countries (lay, clerical and religious) on the TV. The media attention paid to Rome in these past weeks has made us all 'celebrities'. I'd planned to stoll back to the square after I'd finished to pick up a copy of the Osservatore Romano special edition which I thought would arrive fairly late that night. During my coffee, however, I was surprised to see one of the RAI reports with a copy in his hand. I looked at my watch - how could it be 9.30pm already? They'd already started selling them! I was in danger of missing one of the most sought-after souvenirs of the night. I hurriedly paid my bill and briskly walked back to the piazza. (No more running for me that night!) The news-stand was already closed! A queue had formed outside, but it seemed that they'd sold out. Then suddenly the crowd started running - an Osservatore Romano employee had emerged from the Vatican with the last bundle of papers. He was immediately surrounded by about 50 or 60 people thrusting banknotes at him at grabbing papers. The police had to step in and rescue him from the mob and he and his newspapers were dragged in the Bronze Door for safety's sake. I strolled around the sqaure for a while - the crowds had mostly dispersed (and we must confess that had a Latin American been elected there would have been an all-night Carnivale in the Piazza). I wandered around amongst the knots of people (the square seemed empty, but there was probably still a few thousand scattered about in various groups) recognising one or two familiar faces.

And then I had a brainwave - I remembered a news stand where I'd often had success getting papers there after everywhere else had sold out. I was in luck - they had a stack left and I was able to buy several copies for people who'd asked me to try and get one for them. Thrilled with my haul, and thrilled because of the night that was in it, I boarded a bus to take me home, pulled out my breviary and said Vespers for the intention of our new Pope.
Our new Pope looking somewhat like St Pius X

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