“Pray for us”
Driving down a street near the Vatican about two hours ago, late Monday afternoon, as the shadows had just begun to lengthen, I saw someone I recognized, standing by a light, waiting to walk across the street.
I knew him. We had spoken together on occasion in the past.
“I’ll get out and go up to him,” I said to myself. “Maybe he’ll talk to me.”
“No,” I said to myself, “I’ll leave him alone. He has a right to his privacy. He’s going in to the Conclave tomorrow; there is no need to stalk him. I’ll just let him have his last quiet walk before the Conclave.”
“No,” I said, “there is a reason he is right here on the corner, just waiting for the light to change, just as I am here…”
“Ok,” I said, “but I won’t ask him anything, I’ll just say one thing to him. Just one thing, that’s all. I’ll say I loved Pope Benedict.”
I took my decision. I turned the steering wheel hard, pulled the car up onto the curb, turned off the key, jumped out of the car, slammed the door, hit the clicker to lock the vehicle, and jogged to the other side of the street so I could meet him as he came across. A motorcycle almost hit me as I ran.
I reached the other side, turned and looked back. The cardinal was still standing quietly on the other side of the street. Surrounding him now was a small group of young people who were visiting Rome on what seemed to be a school tour. He stood in the middle of them. They did not recognize him. He was dressed as a simple clergyman.
“Hmmm,” I thought, “now that I think of it, I’m not sure whether he is over 80, or under 80 — so either he will be going in to vote tomorrow, or maybe he won’t be. Maybe I can ask him that, too.”
The light changed and the whole group, about 20 young people with an old man in the middle, with a little space on each side of him, began to walk across the street.
About half-way across, he saw me, saw that I was looking at him. I tried to gauge whether he was in some way distrubed to see me, whether he was avoiding meeting my eyes, to signal that he just wanted to be left alone. But he met my eyes, directly.
“He recognizes me,” I thought. “It doesn’t mean he will discuss the Conclave with me — of course, he will keep the secret — but he will greet me.”
So I took three steps into the street and stretched out my hand. I still wondered if he would be cold toward me, and be unwilling to even begin a conversation. But I was surprised. He stretched out his hand.
“Your eminence,” I said.
In his eyes he was saying to me that he could not answer any questions.
But he was not excluding all conversation. And so I ventured…
“I only wanted to tell you one thing,” I said. “That I loved Pope Benedict.”
He stood still.
“I did too, and I do love him,” the cardinal said.
“And so I have been troubled and a bit off balance since February 11,” I said.
And then, as if filled with a sudden emotion, I saw the cardinal’s face grow dark and sad, and he said, forcefully: “I love him, but this should never have happened. He never should have left his office.”
I was silent.
“It is like a man and a woman, a husband and wife, a mother and father in relation to their children,” he said. “What do they say?” It seemed he was asking me the question.
I was silent.
“They say, ‘until death do us part!’ They stay together always.”
So I understood him to be saying that he felt a Successor of Peter should not step down from the throne, no matter how weary and tired, but continue until death.
I felt the words he was speaking were the words of an argument that may have been used even among the cardinals, but of course, that may not be the case.
But I felt that I was catching a glimpse of how at least one cardinal was thinking about the Pope’s renunciation.
“Your eminence,” I said, “I’ve forgotten. Are you already above age 80, or not?
“I am not yet 80,” he told me.
“So you will be voting tomorrow.”
He nodded, and a look passed over his eyes which seemed filled with shadows and concerns. I was surprised at his intensity. I was surprised by the whole conversation.
He squeezed my hand. “Is there anything else I can do?” I asked.
“Pray for us,” he said. “Pray for us.”
He turned as if he needed to go.
“I have to go.”
He took a step away from me, then turned again.
“It is a dangerous time. Pray for us.”
I think we should do as he asked.
And, God willing, I will be able to send out one more reflection later this evening, about the meaning of this Conclave at this time.
(to be continued)