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Students studying in London see the pope

Emily Schrank | Thursday, September 30, 2010

Several students studying abroad in London this semester will have an especially exciting story to tell others upon their return — they saw the pope.

“The experience was great,” junior Rachel Chalich said. “Being in such a large group of people from such diverse backgrounds really showed how universal the Catholic Church can be.”

Chalich said they were offered the chance to see Pope Benedict XVI during their orientation at the beginning of their semester abroad.

“It was still very preliminary and our chaplain, Fr. John, wasn’t sure if he would even be able to get tickets,” she said. “We had to enter our names into a lottery and hope that, first, Fr. John would be able to get tickets and, second, that we would be selected to go.”

Junior Juliet Palko said they were eventually able to purchase tickets from the London Program to attend the prayer vigil in Hyde Park. The service was open to the public for a fee and around 80,000 people attended, she said.

“Rather than actually ‘seeing’ the pope in person, I think the most rewarding experience was being able to see all of the people who came out to honor him,” Palko said.

Both Chalich and Palko were surprised by how much the British people revered the pope.

“Here where this sense of being ‘English’ is somewhat associated with the Anglican Church, it was great to see the sense of pride British Catholics had,” Chalich said.

The cost of the visit to the British government was somewhere around 22 million pounds, which some local newspapers criticized, Palko said.

“I was surprised at all the criticism of the pope that I found in the local newspapers, but at the same time I understood where they were coming from on some points,” she said.

During the prayer vigil, Palko said the pope was not very accessible to the public. He was only present for about 1.5 out of the six hours she was there and when he spoke, he read from a script, she said.

“I also thought it was funny to see the ‘pope mobile,’ which encases the pope in glass as he parades down the streets at about five mph to wave to all of his onlookers,” she said.

But Palko said the experience was still worthwhile.

“I thought it was a once in a lifetime experience,” she said. “It was great to be in Hyde Park with 79,999 other spiritual, respectful people just looking to worship on a Saturday afternoon.”