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Students celebrate pope emeritus

Kaitlyn Rabach | Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, now known as Pope Emeritus, has dominated world headlines since his official announcement three weeks ago. For three Saint Mary’s students, these headlines are referring to events right outside their door.

Sophomores Nikki Charter, Lauren Osmanski and Tori Wilbraham are participating in the College’s study abroad semester in Rome. The program began in mid-January and finishes in April.

“This has been such an exciting time,” Wilbraham, a religious studies major, said. “Massive amounts of people are coming to both Rome and Vatican City. The hotel we are staying at is fully booked for the next couple of weeks. People from all over the world are coming to be in this Holy City at this special time.

“The crowds have been so large the city even had to repaint all the street lines to accommodate all the traffic coming through.”

Because this is the first pope to resign in six centuries, dozens of reporters from major networks have come to report the climate of the city.

“A couple of weeks ago Lauren [Osmanski] and I were interviewed by NBC,” Charter, a communications major, said. “A reporter pulled us aside assuming we were American and quick asked us a few questions about the Pope’s final public Mass.”

Osmanski, a business major, said it was at his final mass that she realized the significance of his resignation.

“We went to his last public Mass on Ash Wednesday. He was honored with three standing ovations,” Osmanski said. “The most emotional part of the mass for me was when the curtain fell in front of him.  People around us were yelling ‘Papa Papa’ and right then and there it hit me that he was actually resigning. I thought to myself ‘This is happening.'”

For Wilbraham, that moment came at the Pope’s final blessing Feb. 3. This blessing was said in eight languages including English, Italian, German, Mandarin, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese and French.

“When you are standing amongst a crowd of 125,000 people that is when you are truly moved by the Holy Spirit, or at least I was,” Wilbraham said. “I realized how special the Catholic community truly is. It goes beyond Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame. It expands worldwide crossing barriers of language, culture and so much more.”

Charter said that the atmosphere of Vatican City and Rome is dreary since the resignation.

“As exciting as it is there is actually a dreary aura around the environment of Vatican City,” Charter said. “It is a very unique experience to be in Vatican City without a Pope. Here we feel as though we are essentially fatherless.”

All three students attend morning Masses at The Pontifical North American Seminary. They said recent homilies have been centered on praying for both the current and future state of the Church.

“Sunday’s homily talked about how important of a time this is not only for the Pope Emeritus, but also for the future of our church,” Osmanski said. “In Mass we were encouraged to acknowledge how exciting this time is, but we still need to pray for the Pope Emeritus and we need to send our prayers to the conclave.”

Osmanski said Pope Benedict XVI’s stepping down will affect not only his legacy, but also believes it will affect the future procedure of the Church.

“Toward the end of Pope John Paul II’s life, Pope Benedict was essentially his right hand man. He saw the effect his sickness had on the Church and the Pope,” Osmanski said. “I think this experience played a significant role in his decision to resign. I also think that this will become a pattern.  The head of our church is essentially our father figure and this man must be fit to travel and undergo the pressures of the position.”

The Pope’s last official day was on Thursday and on Monday, the Cardinals met informally to discuss when the conclave will begin. Wilbraham said normally the conclave cannot start until 15 days after the Pope is out of office, but clauses were altered to allow the conclave to begin sooner.

“The gossip in Vatican City and Rome right now is not about who is going to be the new pope. No one can gauge it,” Wilbraham said. “We can have our opinions on who we would like to see as the new pope, but Cardinals are unable to speak to anyone until the conclave is over. Until the moment the smoke is in the sky we will not know.”

All three students said they hope for this next Pope to be non-European.

“The church is not only European,” Charter said. “The Catholic Church represents the entire world. The talk of the town right now is the conclave is looking at cardinals from the Americas and Africa. Essentially, there is talk about this being the first pope that is not from Europe. This then is allowing the public to ask the question of how Europeans, specifically Italians would react to a non-European pope.”

The students said no matter who is named the next pope, they will be ready to celebrate and honor this next era of the Catholic Church.

“From here on out it is sneakers only,” Wilbraham said. “When we see or hear of the smoke rising we will be ready to run to Vatican City with our Saint Mary’s flags in hand.”