The first words of the Successor of Peter, the first of the Apostles, were an answer, the answer required of him to accept his election in the Conclave as Roman Pontiff. At that very moment the vacancy of the See – a period which in the heart of the Middle Ages was even described by Peter Damian as a terrifying interlude – comes to an end. Nevertheless it is a propitious (kairos, in New Testament Greek) time during which the Church has always had the courage to put herself at stake; and now she also has the help of Benedict XVI's hidden prayers.
This therefore explains the announcement of “great joy” (gaudium magnum), in use at least from the end of the 15th century and which repeats the angel's announcement to the shepherds near Bethlehem, illuminating the historical sequence of papal successions with words rooted in evangelical hope. In the most ancient Christian texts Peter's life starts with his first meeting with Jesus at the beginning of John's Gospel, while at the conclusion of this same Gospel it mentions the extreme testimony of the first of the Apostles.
The fisherman from Bethsaida says nothing to Jesus who seems to recognize him: “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas, [which means Peter]”. However Peter replies to him at least three times in their last and touching conversation, thereby balancing his triple denial: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you”.
In Peter's answer lies the destiny of his Successors, men chosen by men but sustained by the mercy described precisely by the Apostle in the so-called Council of Jerusalem: “we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus we are saved”. And Peter's answer, which the new Pope has repeated in accepting his election, remains the same today.