My windows on the world are a notebook computer, a seven inch Kindle Fire, and a cheap not-very-smart phone. For most of the afternoon, my Kindle was tuned in to a live webcam view of the chimney.
I tried to do other things in the office of the John XXIII Montessori Children's Center. But I kept looking at the chimney, over and over... me and the rest of the world.
If I had to leave my desk, I took my Kindle with me. I'm glad I didn't crash into anybody as I walked through hallways, staring at a digital image of a chimney instead of watching where I was going.
Most of the time I sat at the desk, looking at the chimney every few seconds, and then going over to Facebook to chat with other people who were also watching the chimney. The image kept pixilating, and often the digital variation looked like smoke. No smoke. A bird (seagull? pigeon?) perched on top of the chimney. The bird became an international celebrity for about an hour.
Meanwhile, kids kept popping their heads in the office. "Is there smoke yet?" Not yet, I told them. I'll let you all know. After the first vote on Tuesday, we had a crowd of kids in the office watching the black smoke pouring out of the chimney on the seven inch screen of my Kindle. The black smoke what quite unmistakably black.
So it went on, and I began to wonder what would happen if this turned out to be a long conclave. Chimney-watching every day for how long?
The internet had opened the possibility of an intimate sense of participation in these events. It had been deeply moving, to enter the Sistine Chapel with the Cardinals, to pray for them one by one as they took the the oath, to see human hands from all over the world, human hands of so many shapes and sizes and textures and hues, pressing against the book of the Gospels. Human hands.
But it was also good that we were not digitally looking over their shoulders as they voted. We observed a kind of silence (when our minds weren't racing with speculations). But it was the silence that we needed. The Cardinals were cloistered, and in a certain sense the whole Church was cloistered. The Cardinals had to stand before God with their consciences, and pray for the light of the Holy Spirit. We had to accompany them with our waiting hearts, full of that mysterious expectation that ultimately wants a "Someone" whom we can see and hear and even touch.
The man who would emerge on the balcony of St. Peter's as Pope would not satisfy our desire. He would not be the One for whom our hearts are made. But he would be a sign--and in his ministry we could hope to be guided on the journey, and even to see a glimpse of the New Creation that has already been fulfilled in the resurrection of a Man, and that is breaking into our world and changing our history right now. We hoped that the living testimony of this man who would step out on the balcony, this "papa," might focus the eyes of our faith on the Face of the One who lives forever, the One who is the definitive triumph of Love, through whom the heavens and the earth are being renewed.
Catholic Christians prayed to Jesus, prayed for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and also wondered if the guy they liked was going to "win;" if he would be tough and clean up all the messes made by the Church's members; if he would he be media-savvy.
We wondered if we would "like" him; we wondered if he would be energetic and zealous; we wondered how he would "do" the new evangelization; we wondered if he was young or old, disorganized or competent, an "insider" or an "outsider," a scholar or [and?] a pastor with heart. We wondered about his views on X, Y and Z (insert favorite opinions).
You can bet that bishops, priests, sisters, lay men and women who work for the Church, and of course theologians wondered, "How will the new pope affect my career?" (Let's be honest, people!)
I wondered many things as I watched the chimney. But the depths of hope had been strengthened by the witness of Benedict. He was confident that Jesus is the head of the Church. He had had the courage to put in Jesus's hands the office of successor of St. Peter with faith and serenity, so he might embrace the final pilgrimage of incapacity that was now upon him.
Hope had been strengthened, yet still I wondered many things.
Then, suddenly, a puff of smoke. "Looks like gray. It will turn black.... No. Is it? Could it be?"
I opened the office door and shouted "WHITE SMOKE!!!"
Then we waited more.
Eventually, the Chelsea Academy folks set up a laptop with a projector in the large assembly hall. The teachers and the students of Chelsea and John XXIII gathered together to watch... and wait.
My kids will always remember this. The gathering and the expectation....
The curtain rustled.
Then, at that moment, the screen froze up! "Ack!" "Wait, its back. Here we go... what's with the sound? I can't hear...."
"Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum, Dominum Georgium Garbledigarbleum Sanctae Romanae Digarbledigooble Garbleorum What? Whatswrongwiththesound? Icanthear Whodidhesay
whoisGeorgium? Broonkbriipbroop nomen imposuit Franciscum!"
"Okay, Franciscum. Francis? Pope Francis. Pope Francis!"
"Who is Georgium?" For a moment, the name of "Cardinal George" actually passed through my mind. "No, couldn't be...."
On the (now restored) web stream the crowds were cheering, although I'm not sure they knew who had just become Pope. The EWTN announcers, who had been talking non-stop, heroically, for the last five days were totally silent. Maybe they didn't know either.
"Papa Francesco, Papa Francesco!" The crowd cheered. "Yes," I thought to myself, "Pope Francis... I got that part... but who is he?"
Finally, finally, one of the EWTN announcers spoke, "Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio has been elected Pope Francis I. He is the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina."
And we all cheered. Even though most of us still didn't know who he was!
But when Pope Francis came out on the balcony, radiating simplicity, asking us to pray for him and bowing his own head, the crowd at St. Peter's became silent. So did our crowd and the crowds of all the Church and all the world.
A path opened up in this silence, and we began the next moment of our journey.