by Joey Villarama
It was like a scene out the movie Angels & Demons: St. Peter’s Square overflowing to the brim, with crowds from Via Conciliazione, the main artery leading to the Square, trying to press in to get closer to St. Peter’s Basilica; Catholics from all over the world waving their country’s flag, singing or chanting a prayer in their native tongue; live television set ups and media personnel trying to get a good vantage point of the central loggia or balcony.
It’s almost been an hour since fumata bianca (white smoke) issued from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, signalling the election of the Bishop of Rome, the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
Nope, I was not Tom Hanks’ “Robert Langdon”; neither was I Ewan McGregor’s “Camerlengo.” I was Joey Villarama reporting from the middle of St. Peter’s Square on Day 2 of the 2013 Conclave.
I had taken the afternoon shift of the Sistine Chapel “smoke watch” for the Conclave that was to elect the Successor of St. Peter. After three failed ballots, two in the morning & one the night before, it was not really surprising that a new Pope would be elected on the (presumably) 5th ballot. After all, Benedict XVI was elected on the 4th ballot in 2005.
“Mag-ingat kayo at magpatuyo kung may chance,” an elderly Filipino priest warned me and my cameraman because our pants and shoes were drenched from the non-stop afternoon rain. Our legs and feet were at a high risk of going numb because of the cold, he said, and we could just fall without warning, as if being struck by lightning.
But it was impossible to leave now. Aside from the pedestrian gridlock, the new Pope will reveal himself to the world soon. We just had to make a sacrifice.
A great joy, a sudden panic
An hour earlier, at 7:06PM Rome time, the Cardinal Protodeacon, Jean Louis Cardinal Tauran of France, “announced to the world a great joy.” A new Pope had been elected by the College of Cardinals. He had chosen the name Francis.
I was standing next to a group of seminarians, whose nationalities I could not quite figure out. They were native English speakers though, but with a thick accent. Sinamantala ko na ang pagkakataon and made one of them my translator, even if I realized na medyo naiinis na siya sa akin. đź™‚
I panicked when Cardinal Tauran announced the name “Georgium Marium Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Bergoglio (Jorge Mario, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Bergoglio),” because I had very little knowledge about the new Pope.
At that time, I was on the phone reporting for my television network and I had to do most of the talking because the anchor was struggling as well. Ang sama ng tingin sa akin ng group of seminarians and other people beside me kasi ang ingay ko.
Again, I was a bit restless because I was at a loss for material. For one, I didn’t have internet access in the middle of the Square. For another, even if I had some information about him in my notebook or iPad, it would be virtually impossible to reach for them in my backpack, open and read them, with people in the Square standing shoulder to shoulder.
The world was about to meet its new Pope, and everyone was eager to see the face of the new leader of the worldwide Catholic Church.
Related story: The Francis Effect: The Dark Horse