There is something impressive, uniquely so, about the announcement of a new Pope. Six years ago Tuesday (I’m always last to remember), Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. What’s striking to me is that I remember all but one of these moments since I was a child, even though I have only been a Catholic for three years now. Why is that?
When I was seven years old, I sat with my grandmother who would become a Catholic herself 20 years later. I was her oldest grandson and she always made me feel special for that. “Ammie” and I watched together the introduction of John XXIII . . .
Next came the only announcement I don’t remember clearly. I was almost twelve and had moved to a new part of the country. It was June, school was out, and I was probably swimming or playing stickball empty-headedly when this happened. . . .
I was 27 during the year of three Popes. My brother and I were about to move into a new house when I watched the election of Pope John Paul I. I had left the Episcopal Church and was far from being a Catholic, although my mentor was what I would kindly term a lapsed but passionate Catholic. That proved decisive for me when I was finally moved to enter the Church almost 30 years later. . . .
Thirty-three days after his election, the former Cardinal Luciani was dead, and my brother and I had moved into a new house. The next morning I read with fascination that the Pope had died with The Imitation of Christ on his chest, then I went out and bought the book. Days later, I watched in wonder the announcement of the next Pope, while sitting in the house I now share with my wife, the house we raised our children in. How could any of us have known what would become of that kindly man with the strange Polish name? . . . .
In 2005, I was wandering in the desert. I had left the community to which I had belonged. My children had left home. My business was taking too much time and offering too little satisfaction. My wife was my only rock. I wouldn’t be a Catholic for another two years, but on that day six years ago, the man who would be “my Pope” stepped out on the balcony over St. Peter’s Square. . . .
May he live a thousand years!