The overall mood here in Rome now is quite different from 2005. Recall that Pope John Paul II had been in declining health from early 2004 until his death April 1, 2005. It was obvious that the Pope would not remain much longer on this earth, and we had all begun to mourn him even before he died.
The mood back in April of 2005 was somber and sad. So many people had never really known any other Pope in their lives, and it was like losing a revered Grandfather--someone whom we had made a part of our own families.
There then followed the official days of mourning, the Pope lying in state in St. Peter's Basilica, countless pilgrims coming to pay their respect and gratitude for his ministry in our midst.
This time, the mood is two-fold. On one hand, we give thanks for the incredible eight years which Pope Benedict served as Successor to Peter. We recall his wonderful teachings and homilies, and we were all in awe at his scholarship. There is no real sense of loss this time, because we have not "lost" Benedict. He is stepping away from the very active role as Pope to serve God and the Church in a more prayerful fashion--outside the fury of activities that swirl around the Pope who is active.
On the other hand, there is great anticipation and expectation everywhere. People on the streets are wondering which Pope God has chosen to replace Benedict. Questions abound: where will he be from? How old will he be? What new directions for the Church will he bring? How will he deal with problems--older ones, and newer ones?
The two characteristics which many people are hoping for are that he be a Pope who has abundant pastoral ministry experience, and who can help shape a new and dynamic future for the Church in today's world.
There is concern that the Church is proceeding down two opposite directions: in many countries of the northern hemisphere, the Church is not fully alive and dynamic, with far fewer Catholics living out their faith. At the same time, the Church in many countries of the southern hemisphere are experiencing great vitality and growth.
Many are praying that our new Pope will enliven the Church world-wide, bringing us the dynamism of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles.
Come, Holy Spirit!!