Over Spring Break I, along with fellow Old Collegian Steven Sanchez, Postulant Hugh Dowell, 13 men discerning a vocation to the priesthood, and Fr. Jim Gallagher, C.S.C., and Fr. Jim King, C.S.C., had the incredible opportunity to travel to Rome. The truly incredible part about this trip was not only the chance to travel to the heart of the Catholic Church, but also the timing. The Office of Vocations had been planning this trip since last year before Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had announced his intention to resign.
We arrived in Rome Sunday afternoon and our first stop was St. Peter’s square and Basilica, touring both the interior of the Basilica and the Cupola (the dome). Then we had Mass at the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter.
The next morning we took a two-hour train ride to Assisi, where we visited the sites of St. Francis’ life, including St. Francis’ and St. Claire’s tombs. Being in the presence of saints who profoundly impacted the Church was an incredible and moving experience.
On Tuesday morning we attended the Mass for Electing a Supreme Pontiff, the last public appearance of the cardinals before they are sealed in the Sistine Chapel. All 115 cardinals attended, and having the opportunity to have Mass with the future pope was a deeply spiritual and exciting event.
After Mass we had the opportunity to go on the Scavi tour, which is a tour underneath the Basilica where St. Peter is buried. While there we were able to pray in front of and see the bones of St. Peter. After the tour we stood in St. Peter’s square and watched on large screens as the conclave began and the doors to the Sistine Chapel were shut and locked.
The next day we visited St. Paul Outside the Walls, where we were able to pray in front of the tomb of St. Paul. Afterwards, we went to St. Peter’s Square for the morning election, where hundreds had already begun to gather. Unfortunately, the smoke that morning was black, so we spent the rest of the afternoon in the Vatican Museum. That evening we attended Mass again at the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter inside St. Peter’s Basilica.
After Mass we heard that the results of the evening vote had not yet taken place, so we continued to wander around St. Peter’s until we were kicked out at 6:30. By this time a very large crowd had gathered in St. Peter’s Square, and as the guards kicked us out, they pushed us into the very front row. As time progressed and it began to rain harder and harder, the crowd grew more and more anxious until at about 7:06p.m. Rome time, there was white smoke.
One of the most memorable moments of my life was seeing thousands upon thousands of umbrellas jumping up and down in the Square as the crowds screamed with excitement and the bells of St. Peter’s and churches throughout Rome began to ring.
After another wait that seemed to last forever, the words “Habemus Papam” were announced from the balcony and we, along with the entire world, were introduced to Pope Francis.
The rest of the week was a blur that included visits to the two other major Basilicas in Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore and St. John Lateran, as well as visits to Santa Scalia and countless other churches and ancient sites. Through this trip we pilgrims were introduced to the Church Universal and were blessed with the incredible, spiritual opportunity to be present at one of the fundamental events of our faith. We prayed and spent time at some of the holiest sites in the world, and together with countless others, we welcomed in a new pope.
Ethan Lott is in his first year of formation at Old College Undergraduate Seminary on the Campus of Notre Dame. He is studying at Notre Dame. He and his fellow Old Collegians write posts for the Spes Unica Blog, sharing on their life and formation in Old College. Learn more about seminary life in Holy Cross, and specifically Old College Undergraduate Seminary. And meet the current Old Collegians who are in formation for priesthood and religious life in Holy Cross.