When I was born, Paul VI was pope. I don’t remember the 1978 conclave that elected John Paul I, but after he died just 1 month into his papacy, I have fuzzy memories of seeing a photo in the Akron Beacon Journal of him on the papal balcony — my father telling me, with incredulity in his voice, “The pope died and the Cardinals have to go back to Rome to choose another“. I was 6 years old.
In 2005 I pretty much watched every moment of the proceedings after John Paul II’s death, including each consecutive requiem mass (9 in total), in addition to the colossal funeral mass. I recall just how amazed I was by Josef Cardinal Ratzinger’s homilies, particularly his conclave homily, during that time. I was watching all this beautiful pageantry and liturgy during one of the absolute lowest times in my life (“Jesus and I both had a really rough time in our 33rd years”, I used to joke to myself). I had nothing to do except soak in every beautiful moment of the 2005 Interregnum. And with a premonition that he might just be the leading papabile, I started reading everything that Cardinal ‘Ratzi’ had published. Introduction to Christianity. Salt of the Earth. The Ratzinger Report. Spirit of the Liturgy.
And on April 19, 2005, my mother and I happened to be at the local library as the conclave’s 4th vote emerged as the white smoke proclaiming the news — Habemus Papam! A crowd gathered around the TV in the library lobby, as we watched the crowd at St Peter’s erupt as soon as the name ‘Josephus’ was proclaimed. My stomach leapt, as if to say “It’s Ratzi!!” Then we saw Benedict emerge onto the portico with his delightful “Rocky victory salute“, proclaiming himself a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of The Lord.
Everyone in the library lobby looked perplexed, even my mother — with puzzled faces tacitly saying ‘who is this guy?’ I laid my hand on my mother’s shoulder and murmured “This is good. Really good.”