Local man witnessed church history PDF Print E-mail
Written by DEACON JEFF WALKER, Toledo Diocese Seminarian   
Friday, 15 March 2013 10:18
Deacon Jeff Walker at St. Rose Church in Perrysburg. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
(Editor’s note: Deacon Jeff Walker, a Custar native, is in his final year of preparation to become a diocesan priest. His studies have taken him to the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Walker was in St. Peter’s Square for the announcement of Pope Francis as the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church.)

I was one of the thousands of people waiting underneath my umbrella in a cold and rainy St. Peter's Square. The first two burnings of ballots came about 20 minutes ahead of when they were scheduled to come, so I think most people were expecting to see smoke around 6:40 p.m. When my watch hit 7 p.m., I started to wonder if maybe it was taking longer this time because they had elected the Pope and were asking for his acceptance and his name. Low and behold, shortly after 7 I saw white smoke emerge from the chimney.
My initial reaction was that same feeling you get when you drop off the first hill of a roller coaster: excitement and surprise. I thought, "Wow, this is really happening!" Like the good member of the Digital Generation that I am, I quickly updated my Facebook status with "Habemus Papam" (We have a Pope.) and then started to make my way closer to the Basilica, knowing that the whole city of Rome would be flooding into the Square behind me!
The excitement was palpable! Everyone had a sense that they were watching history in the making and we all knew that we were very blessed to be in Rome to witness what the whole world was watching on TV! The hour wait between the announcement seemed to go on for ages and ages, but everyone was in good cheer. When the name was first announced, no one near me recognized the name - he wasn't on most people's short list. Everyone started asking each other who he was, and in the process we even missed that he had taken the name Francis. Within a minute or two, however, someone had gotten out a list of the Cardinals that he had brought with him and we spread the word that it was an Argentinian Pope, a Jesuit, and that he had taken the name Francis! All of these things were very surprising!
As soon as the Holy Father came out onto the balcony, I think the reaction was pretty communal. We were wondering what he would be like, and at first he seemed kind of nervous. But then, as soon as he began to speak, I watched as all of the people who spoke Italian around me fall in love with this humble man. I translated the Holy Father's words for an American couple from New Mexico who happened to be standing next to me, and I couldn't believe what I was hearing! He spoke so humbly, and he spoke to us as a friend. He started with a joke about coming from so far away, and everyone gave him a hearty laugh in return. Everyone likes a Pope who has a sense of humor! I was MOST impressed by the fact that he asked us all to pray, and he asked us twice. First, he asked us to pray for his predecessor Benedict XVI. Everyone in the square joined in praying a few well known Catholic prayers and there were many teary eyes. It was very touching. Then, when he asked us to pray in silence for him before he gave us his blessing, I was amazed. No Pope has ever done anything like that before - this is a man who believes in the power of prayer! And again, the people gave him what he asked for. By this time, there were tens of thousands of excited people present, and there was complete silence. It was very, very powerful!
The fact that he chose to be called Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi is very telling. St. Francis is perhaps one of the most popular saints in the Church. People love him because of his simplicity and deep humility, because of his zeal for preaching the Gospel, because of his love for the poor and because of his unfailing joy! St. Francis' conversion happened when he heard the Lord say to him, "Francis, rebuild my Church which is falling into ruins!" I think all of this says a lot about who our new Holy Father hopes to be: a Pope who builds up the Lord's Church humbly, zealously, lovingly and joyfully!
There have been pictures circulating around the internet already of a visit that Pope Francis made to an AIDS hospital in his Diocese in which he is washing the feet and kissing the feet of some patients at that hospital. This tells me that we have a shepherd who has a very loving heart - who has a heart like Jesus' heart and who uses his position not for power, but for service. There's great hope for a Church led by a man with a heart on fire with love for God and His people!
Last Updated on Friday, 15 March 2013 10:31

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