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SMC students spend Easter in Holy City

Liz Harter | Friday, April 13, 2007

While many Saint Mary’s students spent Easter at home with their families and pets, some of their 55 classmates studying abroad in Rome instead joined the Pope in Vatican City.

Saint Mary’s has sent students to a satellite campus in the center of the Italian capital since the Rome program’s inception in 1970, said Peter Checca, the program’s counselor.

Sophomore Meghan Larsen seized the opportunity of being in the Eternal City during Holy Week to participate in events that commemorated Jesus’ death and resurrection with Catholic pilgrims from every corner of the planet in St. Peter’s Square.

Larsen said she saw Pope Benedict XVI six times during the week as she attended Mass and participated in a seven-station Church Walk – a pilgrimage around Rome.

“[The walk] was between 15 and 20 miles,” Larsen said. “We saw the four major basilicas of Rome and the three minor ones.”

Larsen also attended the Mass for the late John Paul II, which took place on April 2. She and fellow Saint Mary’s sophomore Suzy Swygart participated in multiple services and eventually started recognizing the different seminarians and priests that led them – and later befriended them.

“Suzy and I ran into seminarians that we recognized from the morning station Masses we had been attending,” Larsen said. “We sat with them, and it was an amazing experience.”

She also attended the Chrismal Mass, where priests renew their vows before the Pope the Lord’s Supper Mass, known for the rite of washing feet on Holy Thursday and the Passion celebration inside St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday.

“We knew priests that were in the procession of the Chrismal Mass, so it was pretty neat to see the priests that we knew renew their vows with the Papa,” Larsen said. “We had really good seats [for the Passion celebration] and could see the Pope very well.”

Larsen attended the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday with Swygart, sophomore Lisa Ficker and three other Saint Mary’s students.

Before entering St. Peter’s Basilica, crowds were lined up outside the gates of the square, Larsen said.

“Once the gates open people just start sprinting to them,” Larsen said. “When the gates open, though, it’s every man for himself.”

Larsen said Ficker scaled the barricades to get inside, an older man present helped Swygart over the fence while Larsen was “sucked into the crowd” but eventually she also managed to enter the Basilica for the Mass.

“We had an amazing view,” Larsen said. “It was such a beautiful Mass mostly in Latin.”

The entire week was a great opportunity to join other Catholics to celebrate the greatest day of the Christian year with the Pope, Larsen said.

“It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever been a part of,” she said. “People from all over the world were there to celebrate Mass.”

Not all the students who are studying in Rome participated in the events of Holy Week – students are on Spring Break until April 15.

Sophomore Sarah Dapkus, who will be in Rome the entire academic year, chose to travel to Ireland during the break because she had seen the Pontiff on other occasions.

“I’ve gone to a number of events with the Holy Father,” Dapkus said. “It’s so crowded that I opted to leave the hustle and bustle for Easter.”