Bishop Linda Nicholls of the Anglican diocese of Toronto is in Rome and generously provided the Anglican Journal with her first-hand account of what it was like to be in St. Peter’s Square for the historic moment of the election of a new Pope. (She and Bishop Philip Poole, also from the diocese of Toronto, and Archbishop John Privett of the diocese of Kootenay, are at the Anglican Centre in Rome attending a course on Holy Week in the gospel accounts, led by New Testament scholar Dr. Paula Gooder.)
At the end of our course day, Bishop Poole, his wife, Karen, and I went to St. Peter’s Square to wait for the final vote result.
It was drizzly and cold, but the square was about half full of people watching the Sistine chimney. The spirit was upbeat and expectant. Close-ups of the chimney were available on huge screens all around the square.
The rain continued to come and go; umbrellas popped up and down, and the square filled. Finally at about 7:10 p.m. a cry filled the square as smoke was seen-first a bit grey and then increasingly white, and the cry became a loud, sustained cheer. Cameras clicked everywhere and the crowd en masse surged forward to be closer to the front balcony, where the new Pope would appear.
Despite the thousands of people, the mood was joyful and respectful. Languages of many nations were all around us. After a long wait the sound of a marching band, accompanied by loud cheers, reached us. Different guard regiments marched in and took up stations on the porch of St. Peter’s.
Finally the lights came on in the rooms near the balcony and the announcement was made that we have a Pope! Francesco I. The papal banner was hung over the parapet and finally the new Pope appeared to huge shouts of, “Il Papa” and “Francesco.” My Italian is too limited to know what he said, but it was received with delight and laughter and was clearly spoken with a gentle and humble spirit as he led people in the Lord’s Prayer and Ave Maria.
After the Pope’s blessing we left with the thousands of others. The streets were filled to overflowing, yet the atmosphere was always good-natured and friendly. There was a sense of hope and goodwill everywhere! I pray it continues as Pope Francesco takes up the challenges ahead.
It was thrilling to be present for such a momentous occasion-and humbling. The Pope has significance for so many people, Catholic or not. Young and old were all there tonight. It was a wonderful privilege to be there.
Bishop Linda Nicholls, suffragan bishop of the diocese of Toronto (Trent-Durham), is one of 10 Anglican representatives to the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, which promotes unity between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.