Pilgrims filled Saint Peter’s Square last night and this morning in the hopes of witnessing the plumes of white smoke from the Sistine Chapel rooftop, signaling the election of a new pope.
Even Tuesday evening, when the likelihood of the Cardinals electing a new pope was quite small – not to mention the cold and rainy weather in Rome at that time – pilgrims young and old came to the square in good spirits, patiently yet attentively watching for signs of smoke.
Many of those present described the atmosphere as “electric,” yet peaceful at the same time. There were numerous journalists in the square conducting interviews, but they were greatly outnumbered by those who had come simply to wait and see who the next Holy Father would be. Even some of the journalists were joined in the square by their families; for them, this was not merely part of their job, but an experience of history.
At 7:42 pm, black smoke finally lifted from the chimney in such quantities that the director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, noted today how he had received messages from people concerned about the health of the cardinals inside. Others say they could smell the smoke from blocks away.
This morning, Saint Peter’s Square was a colorful field of umbrellas as pilgrims came again, this time more than the night before. Again, the atmosphere was relaxed with some praying – a sobering reminder that, though the atmosphere in the Square was festive, the meetings taking place inside the Sistine Chapel were solemn and profound.
ZENIT caught up with some students studying for the Rome program of Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. Student Carla Moreno explained how, “as a Catholic, it’s an interesting and exciting time to be here.”
Referring to the other pilgrims in the square from around the world, she said this experience is a profound “reminder of how international and universal the Catholic Church is.”
In spite of the inclement weather, Saint Mary’s student Erin Mishu described the experience as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
She explained how this was important for her both because of her faith, but also historically. “We’re in Rome, which has made history so many times before, and we’re getting to be a part of it now.”
At 11:40 am, black smoke again plumed from the rooftop of the Sistine Chapel, much more clearly seen in the daylight.
As of this afternoon, pilgrims are gathering in Saint Peter’s Square, waiting to see what the outcome will be of this afternoon’s votes.</p>