memorable mondays: first glance at new pope


Living Faith

Seeing our new pope for the first time


By Roxane B. Salonen, The Forum

The death of Elvis Presley in 1977, the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986, the destruction of the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001 – moments in history frozen forever in the minds of my generation.

Significant loss, a world changed.

And now to my list of cemented spans of time I’ve added another: 3-13-13.

It was a seemingly ordinary day, a bit on the anti-climactic side even. The afternoon prior, while doing school pick-up, I watched on my Android via “Pope App” as licorice-colored smoke billowed from the Vatican chimney.

I could almost hear the world’s collective sigh at wondering how long, in this era of “we want it now,” we’d have to wait before the cardinals would come to a consensus on a new pope.

Many of us had let down our guards. We couldn’t predict when white smoke would rise, so we moved on with our lives.

That afternoon, having met a morning deadline, I jubilantly headed out into the sun and snow to meet up with a friend for lunch at her Fargo home. She’d promised homemade pizza and afternoon coffee, and as always, good conversation.

We were down to just crusts when I heard the familiar ding on my phone with a text alert from another friend: “Who’s it going to be?!!!” and “So exciting!!!”

After confirming by Facebook that white smoke indeed had been observed, I leapt up from the table, announcing to Laura and her four young boys that this was it.

“Habemus papam! We have a new pope!”

But who? The suspense was “papalble.”

We raced downstairs to watch by computer, through television monitor, the emergence of our new holy father. As squeals erupted from that basement corner, I wondered if my own kids were privy to what was going down, hoping their day might have stopped, too.

Finally, the movement of curtain … shadows … a papal flag … a pause … and … and …

As Cardinal Jean-Louise Pierre Tauran announced the name in foreign tongue, we searched for clues. “George. I think I heard George.” But that last name. Who could it be?

Our eyes would soon behold the man chosen to shepherd us into the future, selected not by human effort alone but, as many of us believe, by divine movement, too.

Most edifying was witnessing the throngs of excited people, their wondering pauses and then cheers erupting at seeing him upon the loggia and hearing the chosen papal name: Francis, a first and indicative of, among other things, peace.

Later I heard how one radio caller had pulled to the side of the road in his vehicle to await the announcement with his military buddy. Both were in tears at the moment of the new pope’s appearance, he said, adding, “How amazing to feel so radically unified in a world that knows so little of that kind of unity.”

At first, our new pontiff seemed stiff and scared, but then came a smile, a wave and a bow of humility with a request for prayers from the people. Watching this and reciting common prayers with the world, I was immediately endeared to him.

I can only hope that all people of good will, no matter their creed, feel how many of us do: that the pope can be a spiritual father and voice for all of us, not just Catholics.

We are just beginning to learn what this man is about. “Humility” is one word that comes to mind so far. What an attractive and needed quality.

In time, he likely will be scrutinized as others have been, as it is with all those in positions of authority and power.

For now, I am holding fast to that amazing moment when, in contrast to a September day in 2001, rather than feeling dread and despair, I experienced renewed hope that through this man’s Christ-like example, we might learn to love each other better.

Roxane Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email