As each cardinal cast his vote for the new pope in March, he did so in Rome's Sistine Chapel, staring at Michelangelo's fresco of the last judgment. In it are two angels, each holding a list. One has the names of people who are saved, the other of those who are condemned. Francis Cardinal George, archbishop of Chicago, told a crowd Sunday that each cardinal dropped his slip of paper into the urn during the election looking up at that painting -- where the book of those who are condemned is the thicker one by far.
"You vote looking at that, thinking 'My salvation is on the line here,'" Cardinal George said, laughing at times during a keynote speech for the Little Sisters of the Poor's Amazing Grace Gala Sunday.
The archbishop told attendees at the fundraiser that members of the conclave are expected to set aside self-interest and vote for a pope who would best serve the church. Their surroundings helped keep them honest.
Cardinal George candidly spoke of the current and former popes during his speech. He said Emeritus Pope Benedict was a "marvelous teacher" but struggled with the responsibilities of leading the church, a weakness for an introverted man whose energy was sapped by crowds and public duties. Cardinal George said the search for a new pope meant looking for someone who could teach as well as govern.
In the end, cardinals chose the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires -- a man Chicago's archbishop called strong, kind, straightforward and an able leader.
From the gala audience, Sonia Diego, of Arlington Heights, thought Cardinal George's speech was educational, leaving her with few questions about how Pope Francis came to lead the church.
"I had goose bumps watching the news," Diego said. "But now it's real."
Cardinal George explained in detail the events surrounding the historic vote -- down to the fact that no microphones were used during the conclave to avoid potential hacking. That left Mexico's Emeritus Archbishop of Guadalajara to belt out the names of the chosen men so people in the back half of the chapel could hear what was going on.
"It's like we were there," said Herminia Lim, of Streamwood.
Pope Francis, who, in choosing his name highlighted his commitment to the poor, was a celebrated figure in Sunday's crowd.
Little Sisters of the Poor is a religious order of nuns who dedicate their lives to caring for the elderly in poverty. They run more than 130 nursing homes throughout the world, including Palatine's St. Joseph's Home, which was recently recognized by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as one of only three nursing homes in the Chicago area to offer five-star service.
Cardinal George's presence at the gala helped make the annual fundraiser the most successful one yet.
Diana Olson, director of development at St. Joseph's Home, said last year the fundraiser brought 200 people to the Stonegate Banquet Center. This year the guest list jumped to 360 people.
"The cardinal has been instrumental in getting people to come," Olson said before the dinner. "Everyone is excited to hear him."
The gala included auctions and raffles in addition to dinner and Cardinal George's speech.