Minutes after Rev. Ryan Ruiz accepted Rev. Juan Robert Ortega’s invitation Wednesday, the Springfield Catholic Central High School graduate and former Centerville priest considered himself twice blessed.
Not only did Ruiz get a ride through the rain to Rome’s St. Peter’s Square, he was standing next to his Argentine classmate when Cardinals named Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first pope from the Americas, to succeed Pope Benedict XVI.
“I was considering not going” to the square Wednesday night, said Ruiz, who is from Urbana and served as priest at the Church of the Incarnation in Centerville.
Studying in Rome at the direction of Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, Ruiz said he was tired from a day of classes Wednesday, discouraged by the rain and “just assuming it was going to be black smoke” announcing the Cardinals had failed to elect a new pope.
But when Ortega offered a ride, he accepted.
“Right when we parked, we heard the bells” announcing a pope had been named, and we raced to the square,” Ruiz said.
Standing in what he described as “a pretty good spot” near the center, they felt the anticipation building.
Part of it involved the pageantry, including the appearance of the Swiss Guard and the music of units from the Italian armed forces.
But Ruiz said he was more struck by “just a great diversity of people.
“There were a few American students standing behind me. You had young families, the elderly, you had priests. Just seeing the various nationalities, hearing the various language groups really gave me a sense of the church at its best, the church being what it’s supposed to be: a body of Christ gathered together.”
Ruiz said for him, the scene drove home something Pope Benedict commented on before stepping down.
“I think it was very clear to see how alive the church truly is (even) in the midst of all the scandals and all the problems,” Ruiz said.
Then came the “shock and great delight” of the announcement, particularly in the company of an Argentine priest very familiar with the new Pope Francis.
Bergoglio’s name had been mentioned as a possible candidate when Pope Benedict was elected, Ruiz sad, “but I don’t think many people were anticipating his being elected.”
Ruiz interprets it as evidence of “the great creativity the church can have in these moments,” something that “gives us a chance to renew our understanding of the (Holy) Spirit really being the one at work in this process.”
Ruiz said Ortega was able to describe many of the character traits Ruiz and others have since seen in the new pope, “just his desire to live a very austere, simple life, his humility (and) his desire to truly practice what he preaches.”
Ruiz found significant Pope Francis’ request that the throng gathered in the square to pray for Pope Benedict, then pray for him, seeing in both hints of the “underlying character and the particular gifts he’s going to give to the church.”
“I wasn’t anticipating being around” for the naming of a new pope, said Ruiz, “so it’s certainly been a neat experience.”
Ruiz, who studied philosophy from Dennison University in Granville, Ohio, also offered an explanation for the likelihood students will be skipping classes if sessions are not called off the day of the pope’s inauguration.
Said Ruiz, “I think they’re going to make the call themselves and choose the better option on that day of praying with the Holy Father.”
“Just seeing the various nationalities, hearing the various language groups, really gave me a sense of the church at its best, the church being what it’s supposed to be: a body of Christ gathered together.”
— Rev. Ryan Ruiz