Apologies for my absence; we've had history and theology tests because apparently living history doesn't excuse you from learning it. Where to start. Well, last Sunday I went to the Angelus in St. Peter's square and squinted up at a tiny white speck, who, I knew, represented Christ on earth. "This," I thought, "is what it means to be Catholic!" And along with the Italian school children, we all shouted, "Viva el Papa!" On Monday I was sitting in Art History, really ready for lunch, when our RA came in and maked the breathless announcement that the Pope had resigned.
Popes can resign?
I have to admit that I was in shock. I vaguely remember pushing past people to get to the TV in the lounge. It was all true. The story ran over and over: Pope Benedict...no longer able...has resigned. I stood staring at the screen, unable to even comprehend what I was hearing. All I could hear was my Dad's voice, saying, "It's Ratzinger!" When Pope Benedict was first elected. I remembered how excited we had all been, even though we were all Anglican. I remembered my confirmation, when Pope Benedict became my papa too. I thought about all his books I haven't read, but how much I admired him. I started to shake uncontrollably, and then the tears came. I didn't care that I was surrounded by people; I was so confused and shaken.
Then the excitement set in. "We're gonna get a new Pope and the old one isn't even dead. Isn't that great?" So the emotions went back and forth: hysterical weeping, excited chatter, tears, talking, but finally we settled on excited.
We were even more excited when we learned that the Pope had cancelled Ash Wednesday Mass at Santa Sabine and, instead, was having it at St. Peter's. We were all ecstatic because we knew we couldn't go to the mass at St. Sabine, but we had a chance at getting into St. Peter's. We were all ready to skip classes, and head to St. Peter's before 8 am. But we all waited until 11:30, and that was the perfect time. We got in the very front of the line, and were among the first 100 people into the Basilica for Pope Benedict's final public mass!
It was such a bittersweet experience. On one hand, it was sad to see how frail the Pope is, but one the other, it was joyful because it displayed Pope Benedict's faithful service to the church, particularly over the last eight years. It was also a very humbling experience; the Pope was not putting on a final performance. He was saying a Mass, surrounded by those he loves the best- Catholics from all over the world, from every walk of life. And, as he gave his last public homily, he begged us to "turn to the Lord with all your heart." Even with all the attention on him, Pope Benedict was preparing us to be unified under a new pope.
Just before the final blessing, one of the Cardinals stood up and, in Italian, thanked the Pope for his service. There then followed the most respectful standing ovation I've ever heard. The whole Basilica broke into applause, but not noisy, rowdy clapping: respectful and reverent applause. It was a manifestation of the love, deep respect, and gratitude that every person in the Basilica felt for him.
It was truly a beautiful experience, and I'm not sure how I can convey the Pope's love for every single person on this planet. It was one of those things you could just feel. I felt as though he was truly my father, and that we had a very deep, personal relationship, the kind of unconditional love that belongs to Christ. I know that we all feel as if no one could ever replace him, but I know that he wants us to give all the loyalty we've shown him to the new pope.