(SNR) - It wasn’t the shortest conclave in Church history – that honor belongs to the one that elected Pope Julius in just 10 hours back in October 1503 – but the speed and efficiency with which Pope Francis was elected was met with surprise and delight all around the world, including in the Diocese of Lincoln.
When Pope Francis was announced on Wednesday, March 13, Bishop James D. Conley rapidly made his statement of congratulations.
"The Diocese of Lincoln rejoices with the Universal Church on the election of Pope Francis as the 265th Successor of Saint Peter," he stated.
Bishop Conley went on to laud Pope Francis for his commitment to prayer, humility, helping the poor, the New Evangelization, and "absolute fidelity to the doctrine and discipline of the Catholic Church." He held a press conference for local media in the Bl. John XXIII Diocesan Center, and shared what he had learned about the new Holy Father.
At 5 p.m. that Wednesday, Bishop Conley celebrated a special Mass at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ. Across town, Father Robert Matya was doing the same at Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Newman Center adjacent to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Other priests were celebrating Mass or leading prayers of thanksgiving across the diocese. And one lucky child at Saint John the Baptist Catholic School was clutching a photo of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio and smiling for the camera.
Before the conclave began, Saint John music teacher Amy Groathouse arranged for each of the students and staff to adopt a cardinal to pray for, so that every cardinal was covered in prayer in case of being elected pope. The schools mascot is, of course, the cardinal.
Kindergartener Johnny Jeys was the fortunate one who had been praying for Cardinal Bergoglio. He received a photo of the new Holy Father to commemorate the election.
Meanwhile, on the streets of Rome where he is studying for an advanced degree, Father Sean Kilcawley was sorting out his thoughts on this momentous occasion. He reached out to his families and friends across the Atlantic via Facebook.
"Many of you may be wondering what it was like to be in St. Peter’s Square last night, and so I wish to share some of my thoughts and reactions with you in a couple of wall posts," he wrote.
He called March 13, "probably one of the most exciting days of my life, and certainly of my priesthood."
The conclave had convened only the day before. Father Kilcawley’s studies at the North American College kept him close enough to Saint Peter’s Square to hurry down for the big moment.
From time to time, he had been asked what he hoped for in the next Holy Father.
Father Kilcawley’s answer was always something along the lines of, "I just hope that we get the pope we need right now."
That Wednesday, he celebrated Mass at the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the walls, surrounded by mosaics of all the previous pontiffs dating back to Saint Peter.
The noon ballot burning produced black smoke, so he carried on with his studies, not expecting anything different for the next ballot. However, that evening, white smoke poured out of the chimney.
"When the smoke came so quickly, many of my friends and I assumed that the popular front-runner Angelo Scola would appear on the balcony," Father Kilcawley wrote. "We all were surprised when the name Bergoglio was announced."
In fact, neither Father Kilcawley nor most of his peers knew anything about Cardinal Bergoglio.
"I didn’t know what to expect," Father Kilcawley recalled.
Then, Pope Francis greeted the crowds with warmth and humility, asking all present and watching from afar to pray for him and his pontificate.
"After this encounter, I was filled with great peace and consolation, and thought to myself, ‘Maybe we really did get the pope that we need...’" wrote Father Kilcawley.
Asked to put his feelings into words, Father Kilcawley responded, "I have to say that I really felt loved."
He explained, "In this time of the new evangelization, we have the difficult task of communicating the love of Christ to a world that has often forgotten what love is... what real love is. Many do not believe that they are loveable.
"It may not be enough to simply proclaim God’s love with our words but we must express the love of Christ through our lives."
Father Kilcawley stated that what he experienced in his first encounter with Pope Francis was, "a Holy Father (emphasis on Father) who loves the church, and the people Christ has entrusted to him."
He added. "It is a father’s love that allows his children to entrust themselves to him. I pray that the world recognizes this and that through this new Holy Father and all who collaborate in his ministry, many who have felt alone, abandoned, forgotten, or unloved will recognize the love Christ has for them and entrust themselves anew to the their Holy Mother Church."