Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Gaudium Magnum?

I woke up this morning with the words habemus Papem ping-ponging through my hollow head. For once though the voices were not my own. The source was Radio Due. Throughout the night, the Italian media have been discussing/debating/debunking/deligitimizing the new pope, Benedict XVI. The analysis has been at times harsh ("this is the church's very own September 11th") to the more benign comparisons to JP2. The one element that has been glaringly missing in this news, from where I stand, is the gaudium magnum ("great joy").

I witnessed an incredible thing yesterday evening. In this era of 1,000 channels and news-in-our-pockets, hundreds of thousands of cityfolk and pilgrims, the curious and the pious, streamed into St. Peter's Square from all over Roma to hear the news in person. I was in transit when the white smoke belched to life. As I traversed the Gianicolo on my little red motorino it became apparent that everybody was heading in the same direction. And, as I popped over the hill and made my descent towards the big dome, I saw something I will never forget. Nuns outsprinting priests. Little old ladies hustling as fast as their canes could steady them. Bewildered kids on the shoulders of an enormous sea of people. Before the announcement, I could feel the gaudium magnum radiating from a crowd of crooked smiles and anxious looks fixed on a loggia above the cathedral entranceway. In this motley sea, was the church, waving flags from various countries speaking a half-dozen languages. The emotions were genuine, raw but genuine.

My feelings on the matter don't count. But I suspect the people around me have strong expectations for their new pope. Because we, the church, have no say in the election, we are a bit more in awe of the process, and the outcome. To be honest though I'm abit disappointed that the church went back to the old formula: an ultra-conservative, european old-timer. I'm feeling a bit creeped out about our leaders these days. The titles -- pope, president, prime minister -- vary, but the man carrying the title looks, thinks and speaks with the same close-minded resolve, a conviction that is rooted more in faith than reality. Hopefully, Ratzinger will live up to his name and prove to us all the church has a benign heart .

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