Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time. For Mr. V and I that place was St. Peter’s Square in Rome on April 19, 2005. The event was the election of Pope Benedict XVI.
But let me start at the beginning…
We chose Italy for our honeymoon–romantic, great food and incredible sightseeing. Starting in Rome we worked our way down the Amalfi coast–Sorrento, Capri, Positano and Ravello. It was without a doubt the most magical and memorable trip I have ever taken.
Maybe it’s because I was with my shiny new husband or maybe because Italy might be my favorite place on the planet…my guess is that it was a lot of both.
We happened to be staying in Rome for several days during the conclave, which is the meeting of the cardinals who will elect the new Pope. It was incredibly exciting the evening of April 18th 2005 when we gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
We had been touring all the Vatican museums that day while the conclave was voting so there was a palpable electricity running throughout Vatican City all day.
Look at the small screen on the right in the picture above. You can see a small chimney sticking out of the tiled roof. This is where the smoke comes out to alert the outside world of the cardinals decision.
Alas, the smoke was black (you can see it coming over the top of St. Peter’s Basilica) which means no decision was made on the new Pope. The ballots are burned after each vote and the smoke color notifies the faithful of the outcome. Historically, black smoke was created by adding damp straw to the ballots. Now chemicals are added to achieve the effect.
The next day we returned from seeing Hadrian’s Villa and our hotel concierge told us to hurry to St. Peter’s as the conclave was again getting ready to signal their vote.
So Mr. V, myself and thousands of Romans made our way to the Vatican to possibly see history in the making.
The rooftops were covered with men in black. I’m not sure if they were security, priests or all of the above but seeing groups of men gathered on tile roofs gave us a good idea what was going down.
Then it happened! White smoke, bells ringing, brass bands and mayhem!
And just like that–Pope Benedict XVI stepped out onto the balcony. He was greeted with a roar of cheers, clapping and melodic Italian approval.
The new Pope blessed us all with a prayer. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t understand what he was saying or that we weren’t Catholic. It was a blessing by the Pope and we were newlyweds–we felt it was a good omen. Amen.
We Americans stood shoulder to shoulder with Italians and clapped furiously over the election of a German Pope. It was a moment. A really great moment.
As Pope Benedict XVI steps down (and gave his final address on Sunday), I feel a bit nostalgic. It would have been incredible to have been there for his last address as we were for his first. And who couldn’t use a trip to Italy?
He is the first Pope to step down since Gregory XII left the papacy in 1415 citing his age and declining strength.
Perhaps we should book our tickets now for the next conclave.
If you liked this post you may enjoy this post on Italian Gardens in Tivoli.