Editorial — Joy and happiness

On television and computer screens around the nation last week, there appeared for the longest of times a simple and stark image — a smoke-stack and its supporting wires atop the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

While news anchors, theologians and others talked and waited, waited and talked, the “live-shot” of the chimney remained visible, at least on the cable and satellite news networks. A lone seagull was the star of the day for a while on March 13, when it perched upon the stack, oblivious to the millions of eyes that were watching it.

Then, in an instant, the world changed.

White smoke suddenly appeared, overwhelming the pipe from which it flowed, and at 2:12 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, we had a new pope.

It was an exciting time to be in a news room, a church office or anywhere else that had a television set or a computer screen. The hour that passed between the emergence of the smoke and the revelation of the papal conclave’s choice was electric, alive with anticipation.

And when the former Cardinal from Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was announced as the new pontiff, happiness reigned. When we learned that he would be known, now and forever more, as Pope Francis, the joy was multiplied.

For the people of the church, both in the U.S. and the world over, the past few years have been trying. The visit of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to the United States was cause for celebration, certainly. But the sexual abuse scandal, which first came to light on this side of the Atlantic in 2002, continued to cast its pall over the church for more than a decade.

As news of the abuse crisis came to first one archdiocese, then another and another, there were times when it felt the cloud brought by the scandal might never go away.

Pope Francis’ pontificate won’t make the stains of sex abuse disappear completely; there can be little doubt that dealing with the effects of the crisis is an important item on the new pope’s to-do list. But for a moment last week, Catholics of the world paused, exhaled and smiled at the appearance of Pope Francis on the balcony of St. Peter’s.

Jesuits were thrilled, of course, that one of their order had been chosen to lead the church. And the people of South America — and those of Hispanic descent throughout the world — were given a new voice and a new significance as a result of the selection of Pope Francis.

It was a moment of pure joy, one that the people of God should savor.

Savor the cheers of “Francesco! Francesco! Francesco!” that the Catholic News Service said resounded throughout St. Peter’s Square at the introduction of the pope.

Savor the smile, not gregarious but modest and humble, that appeared on the face of the new pope.

Savor the choice of his name, as Franciscans, Italians and anyone else familiar with the saint from Assisi did last week.

“The choice of the name is beautiful for us,” said a woman from Rome who was in St. Peter’s Square. “It was a beautiful evening; we’re so happy to have an Argentine pope and it was about time we had someone from Latin America.”

The CNS story from St. Peter’s Square acknowledged that “no one who spoke (with CNS reporters) seemed to know much” about the new pope, but “it did not dissuade their enthusiasm.”

Enthusiasm and happiness ruled that afternoon, as statements from church leaders around the world — and here at home — attest.

The archbishop of Edmonton, Alberta Canada, said “we rejoice” in the new pontiff. The archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, said Pope Francis’ selection “delights and touches us.” The president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Denis J. Hart said the announcement brought “great joy and hope.”

And Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz used similar language. In a statement on Pope Francis’ selection released March 13, the archbishop said “it is with joy that we in the Archdiocese of Louisville welcome this wonderful news.”

Bishop Roger J. Foys of Covington used the word “rejoice” in his statement; the Most Rev. David R. Choby of the Diocese of Nashville also spoke of “great joy.”

Joy and happiness. Smiles aplenty. All springing directly from the news of a new pope who has lived humbly with the poor and who has worked all his life to tell God’s people that they are loved.

If only we could bottle the felicity, cheer and comfort last week brought us. Then we could use it when times become trying again in the future, as they surely will.

Perhaps we can simply remind ourselves of the emotion of that March 13 moment, of the knowledge, as Victor Hugo once wrote, that the “supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved.”

Pope Francis reminded us of that last week. God loves us, and he has sent this man to lead us.

Glenn Rutherford
Record Editor

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One reply on “Editorial — Joy and happiness”
  1. says: Beverly McAuliffe

    Glen,
    How beautifully and accurately you summed up the joy that reverberated all over the world as the news of our new Church leader was announced! Your words were eloquent and they truly expressed what Catholics around the world were experiencing!

    At Holy Family, when I got the word of the white smoke, I went to the PA and said to the children, hardly able to contain my excitement, “Habemus papem! We have a pope! Turn on your smartboards or TVs!” Then I walked from room to room and witnessed the excitement of the children! What a great day it was!

    Thank you for your ministry to the Church and the people of Louisville in the good work you do at the Record!

    Hope Katie and your wife are doing well! Tell them hello for me!

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