Monday, March 4, 2013

This Seat is Empty

Dear Kids,

For the second time in your lives the Chair of St. Peter is vacant. The first time you were all so little that A was still in utero. When Pope John Paul II died it was the end of an era, not just in the world, but in our family. JPII was the Pope of my youth and your Papa's. We each saw him several times before we knew each other. Then, in October of 2001 we met him. (At that time M was in utero.) When I told him I was pregnant he reached over and traced a cross on my forehead. 

He was frail then and over the next four years we watched his health fail even more until he finally went home. We have been asking John Paul the Great to pray for us each night since then.
After watching the funeral on TV, I remember watching Fox News and EWTN as the conclave progressed.(I don't remember the conclave that elected JPII, though I do remember the unexpected passing of his predecessor.) It was a fascinating time to be alive in the information age. 

When the white smoke appeared above the Vatican I called your Papa who came home from work. At the time we lived on Veritas Way…yup, we lived on the "Way of Truth"--that short, neighborhood street in San Ramon (St. Raymond's Town) California, not far from San Francisco (St. Francis' City) and Sacramento (The Blessed Sacrament's City). Sorry, I couldn't resist the Catholic California History lesson. 

Anyway, back to the conclave. The white smoke appeared, your Papa showed up at the door and Cardinal Ratzinger walked out onto the balcony. We learned to call him Benedict XVI and he became a father to us all. 

Though I had never met this Pope, I had received communion from him. It was in 2000 on my pilgrimage to Rome. I was in St. Peter's Basilica attending Mass and there was a large group of German pilgrims occupying the front rows. When the celebrant came down the aisle I realized it was Cardinal Ratzinger celebrating Mass with his fellow countrymen. My impression of him at the time was that he was tough, the press called him a rottweiller, I think they meant it as an insult, but I actually liked it. He was on the right side of things, so I didn't mind the tough reputation. But what I saw was a father. He even smiled (shocker!). 

At communion time I witnessed a hilarious clash of cultures. In Rome, the Italians are not particular about communion lines. In fact, you are likely to get run over by an elderly Italian woman on your way up the aisle if you don't watch out. Well, the German pilgrims seemed intent on order. They wanted to exit the pew in a line and receive Communion in an organized way. The looks on their faces when those little Italian grandmothers, wielding rosaries pushed ahead of them was a sight to behold. 
This is the picture I took at the end of Mass.
See that smile? Actually, I was afraid I was in big trouble,
but no one carted me away. Phew!
Eventually I was able to get past the Italians and Germans and receive communion from the Cardinal himself. I had no idea at the time he would be my next Pope. 

Interestingly, your Papa also received communion from Cardinal Ratzinger the previous year in Rome. Of course we didn't know each other, but we did discover this fact before the Cardinal became the Pope. One of the many reasons we were rooting for him back then.

So here we are, you are still quite young and you are on your third Pope.
Or you will be in the next week or two. 

We are all praying for him, whoever he is. And we are praying for the conclave. We have adopted three Cardinals so far: Cardinal Vallejo of Spain, Cardinal Carrera of Mexico City, and a Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary--we are still not sure what that is. A prison for bad apostles?

D wondered yesterday how we were going to feed our newly adopted Cardinals, and where would they sleep? (Yes, he was joking. Funny boy!)

I am filled with great hope for the Church at this time. I think we will be highly blessed with our next Spiritual Father. How could we not be with the best Spiritual Grandfather ever, praying in his monastery!  

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