YOU knew he had arrived by the cheer that welled up from the street. It was electric. Suddenly inside the cathedral, where 3,000 people were waiting, it turned quiet and everyone turned. And now the great huge doors of St. Patrick’s opened and sunlight poured in, crashed down, and there was the pope, and the crowd – nuns and religious, deacons and priests, meaning a lot of people who actually deserved to be there – sent a wave of applause crashing against the old Gothic dome.
He reacted the way we now know Benedict does. Modest, meek, surprised by love, and then gamely, nodding, throwing his arms wide. You should have seen the nuns, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, Mother Agnes’ Sisters of Life, from Yonkers, dozens of other orders. As he passed down the center aisle, they would reach out, rows of arms in robes reaching toward him.
It was beautiful. If you didn’t get choked up, you weren’t alive.
What a hit, what a trip, what a triumph. And it was something else, too. In the past week, in a wholly new way, Pope Benedict XVI became the leader of the Catholics of America. He broke through as his own man, put forward his own meaning, put his stamp on this moment in time. Americans know him now, and seem to have judged him to be what a worldly journalist said in the cathedral as he gazed at the crowd. His eyes went to Benedict on the altar, and he gestured toward him. “He’s a good guy,” he said, softly.
There was the priest I talked to, sitting quietly, waiting for Mass to begin. I asked if he felt he knew anything about Benedict now that he hadn’t known before. Yes, he said. “He has his own charisma.” He spoke of John Paul, the heavenly rock star, and said he’d felt concern that Benedict wouldn’t seem to compare. But, he said, Benedict has his own magnetism. “It’s the charisma of sincerity,” he said. “It’s sincerity and realness.”