By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN When 2009 Delano High School graduate Jakob Lawman signed up for a three-month study abroad program, he never expected to see the picking of the 266th pope.
“It was absolutely by chance that we were there during the election,” said Lawman, who has been studying in Antwerp, Belgium with eight fellow architecture students from North Dakota State University since Jan. 23.
The group traveled to Italy mid-March, a short spring break excursion they had planned months before 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation due to advanced age.
“When we heard the pope had resigned, we thought we might be there during that time, but didn’t think we’d get to see the actual election; it usually takes longer than two days,” said Lawman, the son of Doug and Traci Lawman.
According to CNN, any Roman Catholic male can be elected pope, but since 1379, every pope has been selected from the College of Cardinals.
The voting is done by cardinals under age 80, who cast as many as four votes per day two in the morning and two in the evening. A two-thirds majority is required for a pope to be chosen.
Lawman and his classmates were among tens of thousands in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican the first night of the voting. The crowd was eager to see if white smoke would be released, the sign of a new pope.
However, about 7:45 p.m., the smoke coming from the ballots being burned was black, darkened with a chemical to signify that no pope had been chosen.
“The next night, we went back out there before 7 p.m., and there were about twice as many people,” Lawman said.
This time, the smoke was white and 76-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was announced as the church’s new leader. According to Fox News, Pope Francis was chosen in one of the fastest conclaves (election meeting of the College of Cardinals) in years.
“It was such an incredible experience, definitely once-in-a-lifetime,” Lawman said. “There were shouts and screams of excitement from the crowd, and a guy behind us was in tears.”
Bergoglio chose the name Francis, and led the audience in praying the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.
“Everything was in Italian, but it didn’t really matter it was such a cool feeling being there,” Lawman said.