Call it serendipity. Call it the work of the Holy Spirit. Call it the luck of the Irish (the most likely of the three).

Father John Kelly, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia just happens to be in Rome on sabbatical during this, the election and upcoming installation of Pope Francis.

There he was in St. Peter’s Square on March 13 passing the time chatting with a few seminarians from the North American College and Tracy Davidson of Philadelphia television station NBC 10. He’d gotten there around 5 p.m., now it was just about 7 p.m., and despite a cold rain the crowd was building up.


Never mind, the people were praying and singing, no one complaining, just waiting for what would be the final smoke signal for the day, either black if there was no decision or white if there was a new pope.

At 7:07 the white smoke erupted and so did the crowd, which Father Kelly estimates was about 200,000.

“There were screams, applause and shouts of ‘Viva il Papa,’” Father Kelly recalled in an email. “Then the crowd started to push in a serious way; none of us anticipated that at all,” he said. But they managed to stand their ground and take in the moment.

It wasn’t until 8 p.m. that the balcony lit up, the drapes parted and the formal announcement was made in Latin, “Habemus Papem;” in English, “We have a pope.”

Most of the people near him did not know who Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was, until a Jesuit nearby explained to them he was a Jesuit from Argentina who rides the bus, keeps his own apartment, cooks for himself and lives simply.

“When Pope Francis asked if we would bless him the massive crowd went profoundly silent,” Father Kelly recalls. “It was a very moving experience seeing him bow to us and ask for our blessing and ask for our prayers. It was a great moment for me and I believe for the Church.”