I came home for lunch and a nap on Tuesday and turned on the tv out of habit. I wasn’t expecting any sort of decision from the conclave of the Catholic Cardinals until maybe Wednesday, so I was stunned to hear the commentators on Fox News talking about the white smoke that had just moments before been billowing out of the chimney, indicating to the world that a new pope had been selected.
The enormity of the discovery drove me to my knees. Fox News commentators had with them one of my favorite priests, Rev. John Zuhlsdorf (a.k.a. “Father Z” from Catholic Online), and they were discussing the significance of the early decision (smoke had not been expected for at least one more hour after it actually appeared) and what would be happening in the next few minutes.
Then the red drapes were parted at St. Peter’s, and after a seemingly interminable wait, Cardinal Medina stepped onto the balcony and pronounced those amazing words:
The crowd in the Square erupted in cheers, and it was several moments before he could continue. Now, I don’t know Latin, but when he said “Josephum” I realized that the only “Joseph” I knew of in the entire College of Cardinals was Joseph Ratzinger. Could it be? On my knees, clutching the bedpost… don’t think I was breathing (Oh, Father! could it be?) … why wasn’t he continuing? the crowd in the Square was as silent as I… (breathe, Laura)… and then “Ratzinger!” and I began to sob.
I’ve known of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger since the earliest days of my deliberate exploration into the Church. As Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, his impact on the Church has been tremendous. Despite heated arguments and calls for change from rabid American dissidents, Ratzinger calmly, lovingly, yet firmly has maintained full integrity of the doctrines of the Faith. He is a prolific writer, a deeply intellectual and spiritual man — the very manifestation of those elements I have come to love and cherish about the Church.
Acknowledging my appalling unfamiliarity with all but some half-dozen cardinals, I nevertheless cannot imagine a man better suited by gift and by ability to stand at the helm of the barque of Peter.