When I first saw footage of people greeting and listening to the Pope, one aspect struck me as odd: Why did everyone cheer for him? He isn’t a rock star or a celebrity and cheering for him seemed so out of place. Shouldn’t they be bowing their heads, whispering a prayer, or just plain clapping? I wondered. What’s all the hooting and hollering about?
A few years later, while I lived abroad, I visited the Vatican and stood in St. Peter’s Square myself, moved by the beauty of the place. I found it hard to concentrate on the moment, though: there were so many people, too many languages, and a lot of movement. It didn’t feel reverent or special; I could barely hear Pope Benedict; and I wasn’t moved by my experience. If people cheered, I don’t remember it, and I certainly didn’t join in.
In 2007, I was a student at The Catholic University of America, and I had grown a lot more in the faith since my visit to St. Peter’s Square. Pope Benedict visited the United States that year, and on a hot April day, he visited The Catholic University of America to speak about Catholic Education. Students, decked out in specially-made “Benedict 16” baseball shirts, crowded onto Law School Lawn. We carried Vatican flags and sang hymns and worship songs in preparation. The excitement was palpable.
At the sight of the Secret Service escort, I began to tremble. The Pope! My Pope! Benedict XVI! Right in front of my eyes! Smiling, waving, shaking hands! The Bishop of Rome! The Vicar of Christ!
Overcome with joy, I lifted my voice and joined the roar of the crowd. The cheering finally made sense!
We cheered in thanksgiving.
We cheered with joy.
We cheered to say the words we never have the opportunity to say face-to-face:
Thank you, dear Pope, for your vocation!
Thank you for your witness to Christ!
Thank you for your loving guidance!
Thank you for your encouragement!
Thank you for praying for us!
We love you!
This week, I am encamped in Madrid as one of the many pilgrims from around the world who have come together to celebrate, pray, and learn with Pope Benedict XVI. This is not a penitential pilgrimage. Our faces will not be dour and lined with the weight of our sins. We are there to celebrate God’s mercy and love and to celebrate the ever-youthful Church. I’m so excited to see Pope Benedict and so ready to cheer my love!