We have a Pope! A Pope who, although vested in white, didn’t lose his characteristic humility and charm as he first stepped out onto the loggia of Saint Peter’s Basilica and greeted the tens of thousands of people in the square and millions more around the world – simply saying “Brothers and sisters, good evening” - demonstrating a simplicity which clearly shines through in his choice of a name, Francis, after the beloved St. Francis of Assisi.
How exciting it was for me personally to be part of the conclave that elected our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, the first Pope from America - the Western Hemisphere. When we Cardinal electors celebrated Mass Wednesday morning, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio came in and happened to sit down next to me. Sitting with him at Mass and talking to him during this process was very different than seeing him later in white as Pope – which I do not believe he had any idea going into the conclave would happen to him. When he stepped in from the loggia – after having asked the people to pray for him – he returned to the conclave residence where we were all staying and joined us for supper. When he entered the dining room, he did so in the same way he had every other time in this conclave, he greeted his brothers and simply took his seat.
While the first Pope from the New World opens anew chapter for the Church and brings a new vision, as he now takes on the responsibility of being Chief Shepherd for the worldwide Church, he will share the same Gospel message that the Church continues to offer the world.
While here in Rome, I have been able to visit and celebrate Mass at my titular church, the Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains with all of our Washington seminarians studying here. Every time I do, it reminds me of our connectedness to Peter, the first Pope. We all have a special bond, every Catholic has a tie with Peter. We all have this connection because he is the touchstone of our faith, as commissioned by Jesus himself, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:16-18). Peter is now called Francis.
The role of Peter continues in the Church today in the ministry of his successor, the Bishop of Rome. Throughout the Book of Acts, we see Peter acting consistently in his role as Chief Shepherd and universal pastor. This Petrine ministry, now taken up by Pope Francis, is an essential and central component for preserving and promoting the Church’s unity, holiness, universality and apostolic teaching. Our Holy Father offers us direction and guidance so that we can be confident as we give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for our faith.
In his homily at the first Mass he celebrated as Pope, Francis spoke of our being on a journey, a journey of love, being sure that we are walking always in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, continuing to build up the Church, and professing always Jesus Christ Crucified.
As we continue our journey during Lent on the way to the Paschal Mystery and the pledge of life everlasting, we offer thanks to God for sending us our new Holy Father. Joining in the cheers of the people gathered in Saint Peter’s Square and around the world, we joyfully proclaim, “Viva il Papa!”