The Good Catholic Life Dispatches from Rome: Sede vacante

February 28, 2013

Papal Election

 

By Gregory L. Tracy

 

Today was the moment that everyone knew was coming: The time when we would have a Pope Emeritus and the Chair of Peter would be empty.

Early in the day, the entire College of Cardinals met with Pope Benedict in the final audience to wish him well and thank him for his ministry.

At 10:15 AM the US Cardinals, who are staying at the Pontifical North American College in this time for the conclave, boarded the bus that would take them there.

Cardinals Roger Mahony, Daniel DiNardo, Justin Rigali and Donald Wuerl leave the Pontifical North American College in Rome on their way to a final meeting with Pope Benedict XVI February 28, 2013. Pilot photo/Gregory L. TracyCardinals Donald Wuerl, Daniel DiNardo and Roger Mahony board a bus at Pontifical North American College in Rome on their way to a final meeting with Pope Benedict XVI February 28, 2013. Pilot photo/Gregory L. TracyNew York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley leave the Pontifical North American College in Rome on their way to a final meeting with Pope Benedict XVI February 28, 2013. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy

In the early afternoon, returning to the NAC for a chance to watch the departure of the helicopter that would take Pope Benedict into retirement from the unique vantage point of the school’s roof, I had an opportunity to watch as Cardinal Timothy Dolan conducted an interview with CNN.2012-02-28-GTracy_001_1

I must say, it was odd to be watching Cardinal Dolan on the screen in the media center and then be able to walk outside and see the interview taking place in the courtyard.

Shortly after 4 PM, we went up to the roof of the NAC where there were already a small number of seminarians who had staked out positions to view this historic event. That number would soon grow to scores as the time grew closer.2012-02-28-GTracy_002_1

Cardinal Dolan, undoubtedly knowing the wonderful view the roof had to offer, also joined us. He waded through the crowd, greeting priests and seminarians, seemingly unfazed by the swarm of reporters and news photographers that rushed to follow him.2012-02-28-GTracy_003_12012-02-28-GTracy_004_1

Then at about 5 PM, as expected, the helicopter lifted off from the Vatican grounds eliciting cheers in waves from the seminarians. One held a sign that read “We’ll miss you” and others waved papal and American flags.The helicopter carrying Pope Benedict lifts off over Vatican City State Feb. 28.  Pilot photo/Gregory L. TracyNew York Cardinal Timothy Dolan watches as the helicopter carrying Pope Benedict lifts off from the Vatican grounds February 28.  Pilot photo/Gregory L. TracySeminarians at the Pontifical North American College wave to the helicopter carrying Pope Benedict XVI February 28.  Pilot photo/Gregory L.  TracyThe helicopter carrying Pope Benedict passes the dome of St. Peter's Basilica February 28.  Pilot photo/Gregory L.  TracyA seminarian at the Pontifical North American College waves an American flag as the helicopter carrying Pope Benedict passes by

As the papal helicopter faded into the distance heading towards Castel Gandolfo, a group of seminarians sang wishing the Pope “Ad multos annos”!The helicopter carrying Pope Benedict XVI passes over The Pontifical North American College in Rome Feb. 28.  Pilot photo/Gregory L.  Tracy

In the evening Cardinals O’Malley, George and DiNardo participated in a press conference organized by the USCCB. Sister Marian Walsh, the USCCB’s director of media, open the exchange asking each of the Cardinals their reaction to the Pope’s retirement and what they had said to him when they had an opportunity to greet him one by one at the morning gathering.2012-02-28-GTracy_018

  • The audio of the press conference with the cardinals

Play

For his part, Cardinal Sean said that “there was a sense of sadness saying farewell to this man who had been our spiritual father for these eight years”, but when he spoke to him, he assured the Pope that the people of Boston are praying for him, that they love him and are grateful for everything that he has done.2012-02-28-GTracy_025

At 8 PM, I passed the gates of St. Peter’s Square just at the moment the bells chimed in the hour, marking the moment that the Chair of Peter became vacant.People gather in St. Peter's Square at 8 PM Feb. 28, the time when the period of Sede Vacante began.  Pilot photo/Gregory L.  TracyPeople gather in St. Peter's Square at 8 PM Feb. 28, the time when the Sede Vacante began.  Pilot photo/Gregory L.  Tracy

Unlike the scene earlier in the afternoon with thousands of people waving cheering the scene at that moment was of only a few hundred in a somber vigil. Some held candles, others prayed but there was the kind of stillness and silence that one finds in significant moments, when words which seem to be just noise.2012-02-28-GTracy_0342012-02-28-GTracy_030A young woman holds a candle in St. Peter's Square as the period of the Sede Vacante begins Feb. 28.  Pilot photo/Gregory L.  Tracy2012-02-28-GTracy_037

Most touching, perhaps, was that after a few minutes of the silence, slow measured applause began to spread through the crowd. No whistling or cheering, just soft handclapping. It seemed to be “bravo” to the Holy Father, whose job at that moment was done.

Gregory L. Tracy, managing editor of The Pilot, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston, is writing from Rome. 

About Gregory Tracy

Gregory L. Tracy is the Managing Editor of The Pilot, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston and America’s oldest Catholic newspaper.

View all posts by Gregory Tracy

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