Viva il papa

My heart is in Rome today.

I feel a little silly, fighting back tears as I watch CNN. The papal helicopter is taking off. How odd, to feel such a personal connection to a man thousands of miles away, who doesn’t know that I exist, who was my papa for eight years.

I keep returning to that moment, in October 2006, standing in St. Peter’s Square during a Wednesday audience, when he smiled and took my hand in both of his as his ‘pope mobile’ went by. I won’t trivialize the encounter by attempting to relive the emotions I underwent then. It is just such a blessing to have something tangible to hold on to and go back to as the world watches the leader of my Church step down.

A very holy friend of mine (now in seminary) once shared a personal reflection on the fifth joyful mystery of the Rosary—the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple. He said the mystery provides an opportunity to learn detachment. The mystery recalls Mary undergoing the first pangs of separation from her son. She says to him, “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been seeking you, sorrowing.”

I didn’t understand this reflection at the time. In fact, I resisted it. Isn’t closeness to Jesus the whole point and goal of the Christian life? Why would he separate himself from anyone, least of all his mother?

I won’t say I understand it now, but it becomes clearer in bits and pieces as I continue the slow slog into adulthood. I’ve learned it over the years from various friends grown distant; or as I watch sisters and girlfriends get married; in saying final goodbyes to some of those closest to my heart; as my family members continue to move across the country in pursuit of their own lives. And now Pope Benedict has provided me with yet another lesson in detachment. Ultimately, the man in the office of the papacy must guide the Roman Catholic Church as the vicar of Christ—not as the shepherd and father of the faithful in his own right. The man Benedict is only a man. The next pope will be just as much vicar of Christ, just as much shepherd of souls, just as much my papa.

For today, I’m going to be a little bit sad. Saying goodbye is always sad. But letting go is part of the Christian life. It’s part of dying to self in order to live in Christ.

May God bless Benedict XVI abundantly in his prayer-filled retirement. May he guide the Church as we look toward the conclave, and may His Holy Spirit direct the choice of our next Pontiff. Whoever he may be: Viva il Papa!


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