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Students abroad experience pope’s funeral

McRoskey, Ricky | Monday, April 11, 2005

ROME – During the past several weeks, Notre Dame students studying in Rome have had the unique opportunity to witness the events surrounding Pope John Paul II’s final days, followed by the tremendous outpouring of love and respect when he was laid to rest.The week’s events concluded with the pope’s funeral Friday, an event watched around the globe by tens of millions – the largest funeral in history. Presidents, prime ministers and dignitaries flocked in from all over the world to attend. However, the size of the crowd made it nearly impossible for Notre Dame students to be inside St. Peter’s Square for the Mass, and even some Vatican priests weren’t able to obtain tickets. Some students stood in the surrounding plazas while others simply huddled around televisions to see the Mass. For all of them, the meaning of the funeral was significant. “For me, it was moving just witnessing the sheer amount of people who came,” junior Caitlin Dahl said. “It really attests to the influence the pope had on the entire world.” For the duration of the two-and-a-half-hour Mass, thousands mourned the death of the pope but also celebrated his life as one that brought great joy and inspiration to the hearts of his followers. Leaders from different faiths came to pay their respects and in doing so testified to how Pope John Paul II’s charity and humility transcended differences in faith and religion. “Seeing cultures from everywhere be there for the funeral made it a world event,” junior Anna Scott said. “It was especially moving seeing the Eastern Churches’ involvement in the funeral.”Towards the end of Mass, the crowd in St. Peter’s Square erupted with a chant to honor the late pope.”Hearing the crowd continually say ‘Santo, santo’ [saint, saint] was very powerful,” junior Brittany Cross said. “You could feel the love and respect all these people had for one man.” For most of the students in Rome, the news of the 84-year old pontiff’s death came at the end of their spring break on a Saturday when many were traveling throughout Europe. “It was very difficult watching all the people mourning in St. Peter’s Square on TV when we were away,” junior Claire Chiappetta said. “I really wanted to be there and could not wait to get back.” The following day most returned to Rome and went immediately to St. Peter’s Square to pay their respects to the pope. In the Square, people of different nationalities prayed, sang, or lit candles to commemorate the life of Pope John Paul II. Scattered around the piazza were notes written in different languages with different inscriptions: “I love you, papa.” “We miss you.” “Thank you, Holy Father.” In the next few days, those living in Rome witnessed an unprecedented influx of pilgrims to Rome as an estimated four million people – Rome’s population is three million – arrived to say one last goodbye to the Church’s first Polish pope. Lines to see Pope John Paul II’s body stretched for miles, and Notre Dame students waited anywhere from three to 14 hours to get an opportunity to see the body.The 45-minute walk to school for Domers became an hour and a half due to the influx of people. News cameras were ubiquitous, with international journalists eager to capture the mood and sentiments of students. Several Notre Dame students were interviewed on stations for local, national and international news, and served to provide the rest of the world a glimpse into the remarkable, and somewhat chaotic, atmosphere in Rome. Junior Justin Kohley experienced firsthand what it was like to be among the million pilgrims when he spent the night before the funeral outside, sleeping in one of many squares that held foreign pilgrims without a place to stay. “It was amazing seeing the number of people outside, the pilgrims, who were willing to sleep without a roof over their heads just to get the opportunity to be here,” he said. “It was incredible being a part of the whole event.” And though Pope John Paul II’s funeral represented the culmination of his life and received an unprecedented degree of global attention, several key moments toward the end of his papacy also touched those in Rome. Many Notre Dame students, not only from Rome but also from Toledo, Spain; London, England; and Dublin, Ireland were present for Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square, the first Mass in the pope’s pontificate he was too sick to preside over.Many of the students waited for more than three hours – much of it through rain – to secure a seat in St. Peter’s Square before the 10 a.m. Mass began. Students stood in the middle of the 100,000-person crowd at St. Peter’s, where people from diverse countries and cultures stood together to celebrate Easter Sunday. “It was very meaningful seeing how people from all over Europe and the world came together,” junior Rebecca Wellman said. “We could really experience the ‘Catholic’ aspect of Easter.” Perhaps the most memorable moment of the Mass came when the pope made an unexpected appearance from his bedroom window to bless the faithful. The crowd grew silent as the pontiff struggled to produce words, shaking as he whispered a blessing over the people. Seeing the pope’s unrelenting courage and dedication to his flock inspired many in the crowd. “Being able to see someone like that, who suffers with dignity and feels such unselfish responsibility to the Church, was really incredible,” junior Matt Stefanski said. “I felt privileged to be there.”Before Easter, the Stations of the Cross took place on Good Friday at the Roman Colosseum. During the service, thousands of pilgrims prayed with the ailing Pontiff, who was not at the Colosseum, but in his private chapel, too weak to attend the service in person. The crowds could see Pope John Paul II, visibly shaking, via video monitors placed around the Colosseum, but could not see his face. Instead, the cameras showed the back of the pope as he prayed in front of an image of the crucifix. This solemn moment resonated with Notre Dame students.”Being able to be there and feel the atmosphere with so many people gathered around the Colosseum was incredible,” junior Danny Martucci said. “It was an amazing experience that I will never forget.”