Because I write this magazine’s “Church in the News” column, when Pope John Paul II died and Pope Benedict XVI was elected a few months ago, I spent a good deal of time glued to the television and newspapers. As I joked to my husband, Mark, my life became “All Pope All the Time,” to play off the CNN slogan.
One day when I was shopping with my daughter, Madison, we walked past a display of books about John Paul II. She said to me, “Geesh, Mom, you can’t get away from this, can you?” And while it seemed true, I have to admit that I didn’t really want to get away from it.
I was only six years old when Pope John Paul II was elected in 1978. So for me this was a whole new experience. I was enjoying watching my religion—with all its history and traditions—on the international stage. I was strangely aware that this was more than just collecting information to put in my column. I was watching and chronicling history.
Tradition on Display
One of the things I love about the Catholic faith is the sense of ceremony and tradition. During the events of the past few months, that sense seemed even more heightened. There was something special about hearing the words “Habemus Papum”—“We have a pope”—knowing that those words had announced the election of popes throughout the centuries.
It was also reassuring for me to see, however, that in some cases there were adjustments made to those time-honored traditions in order to address the changing times. For instance, news of the pope’s death went out to reporters by e-mail.
And it was a good reminder for me—and I hope others—that I am not alone in this faith. I am just one of one billion Catholics. Therefore, it is not enough to worry just about my parish, my archdiocese, my country. These past few months have reminded me that I am part of a global Church now and in the past.
People throughout the world watched this transition in the Catholic Church play out. Here are some suggestions for ways that you and your family can celebrate and remember this historic moment:
• Keep both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI—as well as the entire Catholic Church—in your personal and family prayers.
• Discuss the many traditions that you witnessed throughout the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Was there a tradition that you did not know about? Is there one that you would like to know more about? Check the library or Internet for answers to any questions these events may have prompted. Our Web site has a section devoted entirely to this time of transition in the Church.
• For instance, many news reports referred to the tradition of using the ceremonial hammer to strike the pope three times on the head while calling his name to confirm that he had died. I had previously heard of this practice, but was curious as to whether it was still actually in practice. I was relieved to discover that the hammer was used only to destroy John Paul II’s papal ring, and the practice was last used in 1963 when Blessed Pope John XXIII died.
• If this is not your first experience or remembrance of the election of a new pope, share your memories with your kids or grandkids. Or if you, like me, don’t quite remember the last time this transition took place in the Church, ask your parents or older relatives about their past experiences. What were their feelings or reactions? What were the major changes or issues during the time? For instance, ask those who remember when Pope John XXIII was elected if they could have ever imagined that he would change the Church so much by convening Vatican II.
• If you have not already done so, find a way to document this moment in both Church and world history. Keep copies of the newspapers or magazines from important days throughout the transition, such as the day the pope died and the day the new pope was elected. Or write about what these events mean to you personally. Such keepsakes make wonderful windows into history for future generations.
Next Month: Proverbs