University students give new pontiff a digital welcome

William Rooney

William Rooney

March 25, 2013

Laptops, iPads and cellphones were key ingredients as students at St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta welcomed the election of Pope Francis March 13.

A handful of students gathered in the student lounge to watch white smoke billowing from aging stoves in the Sistine Chapel herald the election of a new pope.

But their own connection with the quaint ritual from ages past was thoroughly digital.

While students watched The Telegraph via live broadcast on Matthew Painchaud's laptop, another student, William Rooney, announced the name that he read on his cellphone.

The students immediately turned to Wikipedia and other online sites to look up background information about Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio's life and credentials.

Painchaud, a second-year seminarian at St. Joseph Seminary, said the announcement of the new pope was "a big deal for our community and the whole world, really."

"I was extremely excited," he said. "I felt like my heart was going to stop for a moment there because it took a while. I am very pleased with who they picked. I trust the cardinals totally, and the Holy Spirit in the way it guides the Church."

Painchaud had no expectations of who would be chosen as the new pope, but trusted the cardinals completely to make the right choice.

"Whoever the Holy Spirit led them to pick is good for the Church," he said.

No one seemed stunned by the choice of an Argentinian cardinal who was not high on the list of papabili. But Rooney found it interesting that this was the first pope to choose the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, the wealthy young man who left behind a life of comfort and wealth to embrace poverty.

"I was expecting another name, the name of a previous pope – according to the traditions," said Rooney.

James Hatherly

James Hatherly

The expectations of any pope are to be a charismatic evangelizer, strong diplomat, deep theologian and tough administrator.

Although the mainstream news media speculated that Cardinals Sean O'Malley of Boston and Odilo Pedro Scherer of Brazil might be the papal frontrunners or that Canadians such as Cardinals Marc Ouellet or Thomas Collins could become the next pope, Rooney put little stock in such presumptions.

He was pleased to see the first pope named from the Americas, however.

"I trust in the Church," said Rooney. "I try to ignore the news because, as we know, pretty much all of the predictions are wrong."

Among his college friends, the papacy has been a common topic of conversation lately.

"We talk about the papal election a lot. It's a frequent subject of discussion," said James Hatherly, another St. Joseph's College student.

Seeing who would emerge from behind the red curtain and onto the central balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square was very important to him. Some students skipped eating lunch to see the new pope, but Hatherly even went a step further.

"I skipped class to see who the new pope would be," he admitted, noting that the wait was exciting.

Beforehand, with regards to whom the next pope might be, he said, "I had a couple of thoughts but nothing specific because you never know who they are going to vote for."

Was he pleased with the Church's decision?

"Always! It's the College of Cardinals, and they are guided by the Holy Spirit in the conclave. Who they pick is who they pick," Hatherly said.