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Wednesday, 13 March 2013 16:29

ruben_villarreal_2.jpgDiocese of Lake Charles seminarian Ruben Villarreal, a parishioner of St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Raymond, is a Second Year Theology student at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He has been our eyes and ears in the Eternal City during the interregnum, the time between the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy and the beginning of the reign of our 266th Pope, Pope Francis I, providing reports to this local church in Southwest Louisiana.  Click on "Rome Report" above for the latest!

                                  From Vatican City to Lake Charles Part VII
                                         Habemus Papam: We Have a PopeI

Our new pope, Pope Francis, greeted us this evening with incredible words of humility.  I know only what I saw of him in those brief moments, but his gestures and words spoke volumes.  Formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, he has chosen the name Francis. 

When the white smoke appeared, everyone took a moment to process what was happening, and then there was a mad rush to get as close as possible to the balcony where the new pope would be presented.  I ended up next to an Italian family.  One of their children, a small boy of about four years old, tapped me on the arm to get my attention.  I turned to him, and he whispered, “Tu sei da Roma?”  (Are you from Rome?)  I responded, “No, I am from the United States.”  I was really thinking, “I am from Louisiana,” and more specifically from the Diocese of Lake Charles.  As a seminarian of the Diocese, it has been a real pleasure to journey these days with you.  Please know of my prayers, and please continue to pray for our new Holy Father, Pope Francis!


From Vatican City to Lake Charles Part VI
March 13, 2013

In movies such as Roman Holiday, the camera usually captures Rome at just the right angles to give one a sense of the essence of the Eternal City.  When visiting Rome for the first time, this sense that one gets from films can sometimes come rushing back, and one thinks, “this is like a scene from a movie”!  Most people who visit Rome for a few days usually move past this “phase,” as they slowly build a personal experience of the city. 

In recent days, however, with cameras of a different sort focused on Rome, there have been many “this is like a scene from a movie” moments!  The eyes of the world are on Rome, and all of its residents and visitors seem to have become very reflective about the significance of this ancient capital of the world and about the events that are unfolding here.  Places such as St. Peter’s Basilica and the massive circular colonnade and piazza that stretch out in front of it can sometimes become commonplace, but in these day, they seem grander and more majestic.  Now that the cardinals are sealed in the Conclave, all attention is focused on this one location.   

This renewed appreciation for the city of Rome that many are experiencing is partly because of the incredible media attention of the last couple of weeks.  Thousands of media outlets have requested media passes from the Holy See, and just as many cameras and reporters gather in and around St. Peter’s Square on a daily basis. Priests and seminarians from the North American College alone have done interviews with everyone from CNN to ABC.  Some were indeed surprised yesterday evening when Diane Sawyer strolled into the refectory while seminarians were having dinner! 

Though many in the media do their jobs very well, one wonders why others of them want to keep up-to-date with the happenings of an institution that they often describe as “behind the times.”  No other elected official or religious figure in the world gets this much media attention!  There are likely many reasons, but top among them seems to be that there is something different about the Catholic Church and its leader, something human but also something divine.  This they find irresistibly attractive. 

As the American cardinals departed the North American College for the Vatican this morning, seminarians and faculty members lined the drive of the front lawn to see them off and to cheer them on!  In that moment, I was struck by the fact that cardinals around the city were leaving their various residences to head to the Vatican, just as they had left their countries or dioceses to travel to Rome.  One of them, however, will not be returning.  Whoever he is, he will soon be at the center of all of the media attention. 

Let us continue to pray for the cardinals and especially for the new pope! 

From Vatican City to Lake Charles Part V
March 10, 2013

On Sunday morning, many of the cardinals celebrated Mass at their titular churches, or those churches to which they “hold title” in the city of Rome.  This gave the various media personalities a run for their money, literally!  Because there was not much activity at the Vatican, reporters had to decide which cardinals to trail around the city.   They were a sight to behold.  In true Hollywood fashion, the reporter - notebook or microphone in hand - usually led a pack of cameramen haphazardly carrying bulky equipment.  

As the cardinal electors use these final days before the Conclave to prepare for their seclusion from the world, the rest of us are left with two questions:  Where will you be when the announcement of white smoke is made, and how will you get to where you need to be to find out who it is?  Most of the American seminarians are hoping that the white smoke will rise from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel while we are at the seminary.  St. Peter’s Square is only about ten minutes away from the seminary, if walking, but possibly closer to five minutes if running.  The mother of a French family living in Rome shared with me that she hopes the announcement will come in the morning because she plans to spend every morning this week in St. Peter’s Square after sending her husband to work and her kids to school! 

We can expect the announcement of Conclave voting results at relatively regular intervals.  Aside from Tuesday (when there will be only one vote in the afternoon), there will be two votes each morning and each afternoon.  Here is the basic schedule in local Louisiana time:

Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. (only in the case of white smoke)
Between 5:50 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. (white or black smoke)

Between 11:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. (only in the case of white smoke)

Between 1:00 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. (white or black smoke)

Within 45 minutes to one hour after the white smoke appears, the new pope will be presented to the world.  

From Vatican City to Lake Charles Part IV
March 8, 2013

Gray clouds have filled the Roman sky for the past four days.  The cobblestone pavement throughout the city glistens from a slight but constant drizzle.  The almost melancholic atmosphere seems appropriate during this time of Sede Vacante, but under this damp and restrained exterior, excitement is slowly beginning to rise to the surface. 

On my walk from the Gregorian University to the seminary this morning after class, I decided to stop at Gammarelli, the official tailor of the pope.  All week I had seen reporters gathering there to catch a glimpse of the three white cassocks in the front window.  These cassocks (one small, one medium, and one large) were ordered by the Vatican just a few weeks ago, and one of them will be worn by the new pope when he is introduced to the world.  To my disappointment, the cassocks were gone, and there remained only a white zucchetto (skullcap). 

The Sistine Chapel is now closed to the public for the construction of an artificial floor under which a myriad of signal jammers will be installed to insure absolute privacy during the Conclave.  Additionally, they are dusting off and installing the chimneys that will produce the black and white smoke that will reveal the results of Conclave votes. 

In what is likely the most exciting of recent events, the cardinals have set a date for the Conclave to begin!  On Tuesday, March 12, a Mass for the election of a Roman Pontiff will be celebrated, and that afternoon, the cardinals will enter into the Conclave. 

The cassocks are gone from the window.  The Sistine Chapel is closed, and the cardinals have set a date.  In other words, Rome is nearly ready for a Conclave, and while it does not appear that the gray, rainy weather will improve over the coming days, the excitement will continue to rise, as Rome prepares to welcome its next bishop.  

From Vatican City to Lake Charles Part III
March 6, 2013

Yesterday evening, noted Catholic author George Weigel presented his new book, Evangelical Catholicism, to the seminarians and faculty of the North American College.  In light of recent events, he focused his remarks on significant papal evangelical efforts of the last 130 or so years. 

He spoke of an arc that one can see from the papacy of Leo XIII (1878-1903) to the papacy of Benedict XVI (2005-2013).  Pope Leo, explained Weigel, encouraged a renaissance of Catholic thought and life following the Protestant Reformation and the onset of Modernity.  There is a statue of Pope Leo, continued Weigel, at the Lateran Basilica here in Rome.  The statue presents Leo with one hand humbly but powerfully raised in a gesture that seems to say, "Listen, World, we have something to say, something to share with you: Jesus Christ."  Similarly, the statue presents Leo's right foot edging forth from beneath his robes and positioned to take a step forward, to bring his message to the world. 

Many of Pope Leo's insights and initiatives made possible the work of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), which brought about a great deal of reform within the Church. Following the Council, however, there came to pass a period which Weigel aptly called a "season of silliness," a period in which the great richness of the Council was misinterpreted by some to produce a watered down Catholicism. 

In his own way, Pope Benedict worked to correct some of these misunderstandings, primarily through the central teaching of his pontificate: nothing less than a real and personal friendship with Christ will suffice. This message is one that Pope Benedict, like Pope Leo, wanted to bring to the world, and for this reason, Benedict highly emphasized the New Evangelization. 

So why this history lesson when there should be far more exciting things to discuss about happenings in Rome? Well, because this context helps to explain the relative silence on the part of Rome and the cardinals over the last few days. 

Pope Benedict is the last pope that we will ever have who actually participated in the Second Vatican Council.  He was there.  He contributed.  He knew its message.  It is entirely possible that the next pope would have been in high school at the time of the Council.  The cardinals realize this, and they realize that we are entering into a new era of Church life.  Thus, they appear to be in no hurry to rush their discernment and preparations before they set a date for the Conclave which will produce the first pope to lead during this new era.  During this time, reports tell us that the majority of their discussions have centered around the Second Vatican Council and the New

The cardinals have designated 5:00 p.m. (10:00 a.m. CST) on Wednesday as a "moment of Universal prayer" for their discernment and for the Conclave.  

  From Vatican City to Lake Charles Part II
March 4, 2013

Rome is a city of traditions.  The traditions surrounding its social norms, architecture, religion, and even its food come together to express a general sense of what one calls “Rome.” These traditions, some of them stretching back millennia, give one an idea of what to expect when negotiating this ancient city. When an unconventional, think-outside-the-box pope makes the decision to abdicate, however, the shock waves of such a decision leave the edges of some of these traditions a little blurred, and the unexpected seems to greet one around every turn.  
For example, Swiss Guards, who have protected Roman Pontiffs since 1506, generally do not deviate from their script.  In my work as a Scavi Tour guide at Vatican City, I encounter them on a regular basis.  They are disciplined and loyal but rarely conversational while performing their duties.  Recently, however, one of them shared with a friend of mine the sadness that he felt at the pope’s resignation.  When my friend expressed how moved he was to watch the ceremony of the Swiss Guard leaving their post at Castel Gandolfo on the evening of the resignation, the guard called over one of his friends and fellow Swiss Guard.  His friend had been the one to close the doors at Castel Gandolfo, a gesture that symbolized the close of a papacy.  The young Swiss Guard expressed what a privilege it was to serve the Holy Father at such a time, but he also expressed how difficult his duties were that evening.  

Also out of the ordinary is the frequency with which one “runs into” a cardinal.  They are everywhere and occasionally give us a glimpse into their responsibilities at the Vatican.  Monday morning the American cardinals finished up their First General Congregation and returned to the North American College just as seminarians were returning from class.  Cardinal Dolan of New York assured the seminarians, “I'll bet you guys had a more interesting morning than we did!" 
At this first “particular congregation,” three cardinals were elected to assist the Camerlengo (Chamberlain) in governing the Church for the next three days.  Of the 115 cardinal electors, 12 of them have yet to arrive in Rome.  They are expected to arrive either Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.  On Monday evening, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, will give the cardinals the first of two required meditations prior to the opening of the Conclave.  With 12 cardinal electors absent for the morning session and this scheduled evening meditation, it seems unlikely that a date for the opening of the Conclave will be set on Monday.
The cardinals also voted unanimously to send a message to Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI.  They will share this message with us after it has been approved.
From Vatican City to Lake Charles Part I
March 2, 2013

Last Thursday at around five o’clock in the afternoon, the residents of the city of Rome began their ascent.  They were heading to the rooftop terraces scattered around the city to say a final goodbye to the man who had served as their bishop for the last eight years, Pope Benedict XVI.  At the North American College, just steps away from the Vatican, we stood waiting for the Holy Father’s helicopter to rise from behind the walls of Vatican City.  When at last it did, cheers of farewell erupted all around.  The helicopter passed right over the American seminary, took a sweeping tour of Rome, and headed off into the distance.  

Also gathered on the roof of the American seminary were Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and a number of photographers and cameramen who followed him closely, documenting his every move.  They knew that in just a few hours all attention would turn from Pope Benedict to the cardinals of the Church and the grave responsibility that lay ahead of them.

Presently, the American cardinals have arrived in Rome.  Though all of them are allowed to take part in discussions that precede the Conclave, only nine of them are “cardinal electors,” or those cardinals who are under the age of 80 and are, therefore, allowed to vote during the election of the new pope.  These American cardinals are staying with us at the North American College.  When the Conclave begins, they will join the other cardinal electors from around the world at the Casa Santa Marta, a residence of monastic simplicity built for this purpose during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

As preliminary discussions proceed over the course of next week and as the cardinals move closer to selecting a date for the opening of the Conclave, we hope that those in the Diocese of Lake Charles will find these updates from Vatican City helpful as we await the election of our next pope! 
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