It is a unique privilege to serve as a diplomat at the Vatican. From last week's announcement of ‘habemus papam,' which proclaimed to the world that a new pope had been selected by the conclave of cardinals -- to his first appearance on the balcony in St. Peter's square -- to yesterday's mass of accession -- the election of Pope Francis has been a highlight of my time at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. Early yesterday morning, our embassy staff met inside Vatican City to wait for Vice President Biden and the Congressional delegation to arrive, watching as motorcades dropped off heads of state, princes, and kings from all over the world. There, behind the scenes, the stage was being set for a historic event, an inauguration following the first papal resignation in 600 years.
Diplomats to the Holy See attend papal masses regularly, but yesterday was a truly special moment. As Pope Francis passed right alongside the diplomatic section you could sense the excitement in the air. This was the first time anyone from our embassy had seen the pope ride open-air through the square and it was moving to see him connect with thousands of people as he made his way up to the altar.
We generally sit to the right of the altar in St. Peter's Square, but for this mass the world leaders had our usual seats, so we sat close in facing the front. In this section, diplomats wear their national dress, or formal attire. The national dress may include ornate hats, ceremonial swords, medals, or colorful robes. Americans dress either in full tuxedo with tails and white ties, or full-length black dresses with head coverings for women. The Vatican's protocol office dictates how we are expected to dress, and it fits neatly into their long tradition of formal events. Although the United States is less than a year from celebrating its 30th anniversary of official, diplomatic relations with the Holy See, the Holy See has the oldest diplomatic corps in the world, dating from the mid-15th Century.
The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is small, but unique, and yesterday we knew that we were in the middle of history in the making. As Pope Francis takes on the sacred role of leading the Catholic Church, we renew our commitment to working closely with the Holy See to advance our shared belief in peace and humanity.