March 8, 2013
The Windows Are Closed
Reflecting on the Pope’s Departure
A view of the Apostolic Palace, the Pope’s private residence.
The technical term for this period of papal transition is sede vacante (the seat/chair is empty). But for the Romans and pilgrims the clearest visual is not an empty chair but rather the shutters and windows in the Apostolic Palace in St. Peter’s Square that are closed. Three stories of windows face the square; behind the top set is the Pope's private residence. The second window on the left is probably the most familiar; it is the window from which the Holy Father gives his Sunday blessings.
The evening the Holy Father left Rome by helicopter I walked to St. Peter's. The windows were already closed. It was a poignant, personal moment for me. I had last seen that twice in 1978, after the deaths of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul I. I stood there for at least 10 minutes, reflecting on a very interesting evening just coming to an end.
I had been on the CNN set with John Allen and Christian Amanpour to make a few comments as the papal helicopter flew over Rome with Benedict XVI as its important passenger. The flight took place (as many of you saw) on a picture-perfect Roman evening. The sunset colors were light blue flowing into pink flowing into apricot. Typically Roman. The Pope's journey to his temporary home at Castel Gandolfo took him over the Castel Sant’Angelo, where we were broadcasting (with the traffic below sometimes interrupting the coverage!). We watched the rest of the ride by television monitor on set.
The helicopter flew over the streets of downtown Rome, the Forum, the Coliseum — all very moving. But, for me, I almost lost it when the Pope flew over what would soon no longer be his cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
|The Basilica of St. John Lateran with its steps leading to the pontiff’s chair.|
Every diocese — whether it is Des Moines, Chicago, or New York — has one cathedral. Some dioceses also have basilicas. In Washington our cathedral is St. Matthew's, and the National Shrine adjacent to CUA is a basilica. The difference? The cathedral contains the bishop's chair, cathedra in Latin. When installed in a diocese, the bishop is seated in the cathedra signifying authority and his responsibility to teach. To teach from a seated position at the time of Jesus was to show one's authority. For example, at the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of St. Matthew Jesus ascends the mountain and sits down to teach.
So even in Rome, a city of countless basilicas, only one is the Pope's cathedra, St. John Lateran.
On March 5, I walked from the Forum and the Coliseum to the Basilica of St. John Lateran to pray for the College of Cardinals. I also went to prepare for an on-site visit with my class on March 20. That will be during a week when many parents, visiting their daughters and sons in the Rome program, also will be invited to the class (I'd better be well prepared!).
I stopped for several minutes at the Pope's chair in St. John’s. This is the real chair that is empty. This is the chair that will be occupied by the new Pope. One of the ceremonies for the beginning of a papacy is to "take possession" of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. And for the Pope to sit in the chair for the first time. I left the basilica that day with a heavy heart, missing Benedict XVI and praying for the cardinals.
Last night, as I returned from the Holy Hour sponsored by the College of Cardinals and held at St. Peter's for inspiration and guidance, I looked up at the Apostolic Palace.
The windows are closed.
|Windows of St. John Lateran.|