I feel like in the timing of the announcement of our new pope, God was granting the Wichita diocese a special little gift just for us. The timing was too perfect, almost surreal. Let me tell you about today.
To celebrate our diocesan 125th anniversary, we had a youth rally today at Hartman Arena. They began planning this day many months ago, not knowing that at the time, a conclave would be in its second day.
There are around 5,000 people at the arena. Every Catholic school in our diocese of stewardship is represented. My school brought our students in grades 3-8 and our entire faculty. Before the event, I thought how cool it would be if the announcement was made while we were there. But once the rally started, I was so busy being a teacher (encouraging kids to participate, helping students find the bathrooms, passing out lunches, etc.) that I forgot all about the conclave. The theme of the day is “We are One Body in Christ.” There are two big jumbo screens that have the words to the praise and worship songs. They also zoom in on the speakers so those of us a football field away can see them.
It was time for the closing Mass of the rally. We all began singing.
Come, now is the time to worship.
Come, now is the time to give your heart.
Come, just as you are to worship.
Come, just as you are before your God.
One day every tongue will confess you are God
One day every knee will bow…
The music died down. It looked like Fr. Jarrod, our M.C. for the day was talking to the choir director. He tells us all that they are expecting news about the new pope very soon, so let’s pray a decade of the Rosary together. 6 Hail Marys in, another priest whispers in Fr. Jarrod’s ear. He tells us there is white smoke. The students begin cheering. It will take awhile before we know more, so they begin Mass. What a difference a wake-up call like this can make. With renewed fervor we sing: Come, now IS the time to worship!
Bishop Jackels gives a very good homily about our parish families, our diocesan family celebrating this anniversary, and our universal church family, all awaiting the news of a new papa. We are one body in Christ, waiting.
Bread is consecrated and becomes Jesus’ body. Words are said that turn wine to blood. We receive Christ into our own hearts and become living tabernacles. Then, in the best after-communion announcement of all time, the jumbo screens flickered to show a view of St. Peter’s Square. Francesco! While we waited for the first glimpse of our new pope, one of the priests (the bishop?) translated for us that Cardinal Bergoglio from Buenos Aires had been elected and was our new Pope Francis. More waiting. Fr. Jarrod got all the kids chanting “Fran-ces-co! Fran-ces-co!” and then “Ar-gen-tin-a! Ar-gen-tin-a!” and finally (not quite mustering the same enthusiasm from the kids) “Bue-nos Air-es! Bue-nos Air-es!” It was a nice try, and a tried and true Totus Tuus teaching strategy of drilling something you want the kids to remember by having them shout it back at you.
The camera in Rome zooms in on the curtain. My 3rd graders around me are so excited for what is coming. And then Pope Francis walks out. And the arena EXPLODES. Everyone is clapping and cheering for our new shepherd. I take a moment to soak all this in, I look around the stadium at all these children. And it is so beautiful. Tears well up in my eyes. And I’m smiling so hugely that they can’t well long, so they roll down my cheeks. It is hard to put into words, but I will try, because it was that moment of bittersweet joy that I want to remember.
Why do I say bittersweet? Because when I looked around the stadium, I saw the innocence of all those children, and I remembered the world outside that wants very much to take that innocence away and leave them only apathy, cynicism, pride. A world that very much tries to hypnotize our kids into forgetting what is most important, what is true. And as a teacher, I’ve watched once-innocent hearts slowly harden in this valley of tears. As a teacher, I have given my life to lighting candles in these young hearts. And when my students leave me, I hope that others will tend to those fires, but fear that too often those flames will be extinguished, those seeds that were planted will not be watered by our present culture. This is my hope and fear as a parent as well. (Really, what is teaching but a form of adoptive parenting? I love my kids. I hope above all for their sanctity. Each class I want to see reunited in Heaven. It’s part of my job description: help get these kids to Heaven.) I don’t know what the upcoming years hold for our Church. I see the tides of persecution rising. And are we preparing our children, forming our children, educating our children, to stand strong, to rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, to persevere in prayer? We, as parents, as teachers, we are trying. But there is so much more to be done! And we are so weak, so selfish, so undisciplined. We are broken. But here is a Francis that the Holy Spirit has selected, that God has given to us who will “rebuild my Church!” So let us place our brokenness in Jesus’ pierced hands. Let us give him our hopes and fears and our next generation. Let us trust him. Let us “Be not afraid!” to remember the word’s of our generation’s papa. So in that moment I felt joy and sorrow. I felt thankfulness for God’s plan to not leave us orphans. I felt very proud to be a part of my Catholic church. I still hope that these 5,000 souls will choose to follow Christ. I believe in the holy work we are doing in our homes and schools.
“Let us always pray for us, one for the other, let us pray for the whole world, so that there may be a great fraternity.” -Pope Francis
And then Bishop Jackels gave the Final Blessing. Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Thanks be to God.