Once in a lifetime

Sophomores recall time in Rome during papal conclave

This past semester, Nicholas Lemanski ’15 and Christopher Garbinsky ’15 – along with Matt Brodman ’15, Liam Switalski ’15, and Amanda Preston ’15 – traveled to London to study at Regents College. While abroad, they happened to be in Rome during the week of the papal conclave that resulted in the election of Pope Francis. Lemanski and Grabinsky recount their experiences.

NL: Our spring break occurred that week, and all our flights to Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Genoa, and back to London were booked before Pope Benedict XVI retired. After hearing about his retirement, I knew there was a slim chance we’d be in Rome about the time the conclave took place and might be lucky enough to see the white smoke.

NL: As our spring break drew closer, I realized we might be in Rome for the choosing of the new pope. On Tuesday, March 12, I decided I wanted to be in the Vatican as much as I could before Thursday, when I was scheduled to take a train to Genoa. Tuesday morning, I visited the Colosseum and made my way to the Vatican about 4 p.m. The ceremony started about 5 p.m. I watched the cardinals’ prayer procession on TV screens set up in St. Peter’s Square.

NL: After the ceremony, the cameras inside were turned off, and the cardinals began to vote. All that was left on the screens was a view of the chimney where black or white smoke would emerge. The crowd in St. Peter’s Square stood in the rain and waited. It wasn’t until almost 8 p.m. when black smoke finally rose from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, sending the crowd home.

NL: I awoke early the next day, March 13, to make sure I had an ideal place to stand for the morning vote. I stood up front, close to the press box. The morning wait, again, was filled with cold rain and much anticipation and resulted in a letdown as we saw black smoke rise from the chimney again.

CG: It was surreal to see so many people standing and waiting for the arrival of one man.

NL: After a quick lunch and an attempt to dry off, I waited in St. Peter’s at 4:30 p.m., again standing in the rain about 10 feet behind the press box. I talked to people near me who were from throughout the world but united as one to welcome a new pope. Nothing happened until after 7 p.m. when white smoke finally rose from the chimney.

CG: After finishing dinner at 6:45, we walked to Saint Peter’s Square to see if we could see the smoke, which was supposed to appear about 7 p.m. As we got closer, we heard the crowd roar and knew it was time for the arrival of the new pope.

NL: I shook with excitement as the crowd roared.

CG: We hurried into the square and weaseled our way up to about 25 yards from the front gate. We saw thousands of people, speaking different languages, pour into the square, filling it up. We stood for an hour waiting for the announcement of the new pope.

NL: Quite a bit of time passed before the Vatican announced the new pope’s name. During that time, the crowd continued to cheer and chant “We want Papa” while the bells, which were heard all around the city, rang.

CG: We saw a band walk through the Vatican and play for the pope. A few minutes later, it announced the new pope. We had a clear line of vision to the balcony from where we were standing. Everyone around us spoke different languages. We were the only people in our vicinity speaking English.

NL: Finally, the pope came out to speak and gave the crowd and the world his blessing.

CG: After many long minutes, Papa Francesco stepped out onto the balcony and spoke in an unfamiliar language, but everyone there understood what he was saying. He led everyone through an Our Father and Hail Mary and then bid us farewell.

NL: Being in the presence of, and praying with, Pope Francis was one of the most memorable moments of my life. The most amazing part of his speech was when he asked the crowd to take a moment of silence, and the 100,000 people in Saint Peter’s Square complied. It was so quiet, you could’ve heard a pin drop.

CG: It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’ll be able to keep that with me for the rest of my life. I’ll tell my grandchildren about it.

NL: The next day my dad texted a statistic – I was one of about 100,000 pilgrims in the Vatican that day, less than .01 percent of all Catholics in the world. I’m thankful to have experienced that amazing day. JCU

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