Watching with the Family as Papal History Unfolds

I love the fact that we must wait to learn the identity of the new pope.

In this explosively-expanding technopoly of ours, having to wait seems borderline absurd. We use our cell phones to help diagnose and treat diseases, but when the Catholic Church wants to notify its members of the most important decision it can make, it uses smoke signals? I love it!

This time around, I experience a somewhat unanticipated blessing as a result of the blackout: there is enough time between the heart-stopping display of white smoke billowing from the Sistine chimney and Pope Francis’ arrival on the balcony for me to make the walk home from work so that I can watch the announcement with my family.

…although “walk’s” a bit misleading there.  Yes, I run.

When I arrive, I find the older boys clustered around our desktop computer, their eyes glued to the pandemonium going on in St. Peter’s Square. Sarah’s in the den, struggling with AppleTV’s bizarrely ineffectual YouTube search function in an attempt to find a live feed. A few minutes later, “thanks” to my officious and self-important directions, the television is sitting in the middle of the living room with Centro Televisivo Vaticano flickering across its screen. (I know, I know. There were a number of excellent commentators on a number of network channels, but I wasn’t interested in commentary during this historic event. I wanted nothing but images.)

And then, we wait.

At first, we spend our time bouncing between discussions of what exactly the new pontiff was doing at that moment — Eucharistic Adoration, the Room of Tears — and eager shrieking every time the crowd’s out-sized reactions to their own images (erroneously) suggests the Pope’s impending arrival. Dominic stays focused — mostly; Sean tries to expend some pent-up energy by turning somersaults; Mark and David desperately attempt to sit on one another’s laps, and Cormac nearly knocks over the TV.

As the wait wears on, I hunt down a listing of the first names of the Cardinali (in Latin), and watch as my online friends struggle with emotions as indescribable as my own. David joins the restless, packed crowd in the square by chanting “We want Papa!!! We want Papa!!!” with growing intensity, and Cormac tries to break each and every dish on our kitchen counter. (For reasons known only to his guardian angel, he does not succeed.)

Mark, nearly always the calmest of the Susanka Sons, deals with the growing frustration of a pope-less broadcast by reading Tintin. Sarah and I wonder if there is anyone we should invite over to share in our nervous excitement, David and James wrestle uncontrollably (mere inches from the screen), and Cormac climbs on the living room table in an attempt to unscrew the light bulb in our chandelier.

My hands are shaking. So I make coffee. (Perfectly logical, right?) Sean is on the verge of exploding with excitement, his growing levels of nervous energy no match for somersaults. And then, someone appears on the balcony. Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran waits for the crowd’s roar to subside, and then speaks those long-awaited words, “Habemus Papam!” I catch very little of the following phrase, though just enough to hear “Argentina.” The Internet immediately explodes.

The boys don’t see a pope, and are unimpressed.

Now that we know who we’re going to see, the question of when we’re going to see him grows even sharper. The uncomfortable wait between the announcement and the Pope’s appearance is tough for me to stomach, and the boys are entirely incapable. They go crazy, to a man. (Except for Cormac, who went outside a few minutes ago and wandered around in the backyard until he found a stick. Now, he’s using it earnestly in an attempt to break through the glass pane of our storm door and rejoin into the insanity.)

The curtains move ever so slightly. As a sign of my impatience-induced lunacy, I spend a brief-but-serious moment wondering if someone’s twitching them intentionally. Then, there’s flash of people crowding around inside, and a glimpse of man dressed all in white. And the curtains open.

The wall of noise is astonishing. As it washes over us (and Pope Francis), Sean says “He doesn’t look thrilled.” He’s right. The white-robed man standing there on the balcony looks overwhelmed — and understandably so. In a gesture that renders him instantly sympathetic as he confronts the momentousness of his new obligations, he asks us to pray, leading everyone in the square before him (and those fastened to their screens from afar) in the wonderfully familiar Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. In Italian. Mostly.

Sean panics: “He doesn’t speak English,” he says in a concerned tone. A moment later, Mark — equally aware of the problem but conveying a demeanor of cool indifference — nonchalantly asks: “When will he say this stuff in English?” But concern over the language barrier is fleeting, because Pope Francis’ body language speaks eloquently, even if his words mean little to my sons. As he continues to talk — and to so obviously gain in both confidence and peacefulness — the boys fall silent.

By the time he has wished us “Good night and sleep well,” and disappeared back behind the curtains, the nervous energy and antsy excitement has faded, leaving behind a peaceful contentment. In the coming days, we will doubtless come to know our new pontiff more clearly — his background, his thoughts, hopes, and fears, and his vision for the Church and its members. But at this moment, we are as close to him one could possibly imagine. We have a Papa once again; we’re no longer fatherless. It’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling.

And Cormac goes to sleep.

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.


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