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Students celebrate Easter Mass at the Vatican

| Thursday, April 9, 2015

DUBLIN — As the clouds parted and the rain stopped in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican last Sunday morning, more than 100 Notre Dame students were on hand to celebrate Easter Sunday Mass, led by Pope Francis.

The Mass, part of a pilgrimage organized by Notre Dame Campus Ministry, brought together juniors currently studying abroad across Europe to celebrate Easter as a community in Rome.

John Paul Lichon, assistant director of retreats, pilgrimages and spirituality for Campus Ministry, said the pilgrimage, one of several offered by Campus Ministry throughout the year, is special not only because of its location in Rome but also its timing with the Church’s Easter celebration.

Notre Dame students who are studying abroad  in Europe journey to Rome to celebrate Easter mass at the Vatican as part of a Campus Ministry pilgrimage.Courtesy of Campus Ministry

Notre Dame students who are studying abroad in Europe journey to Rome to celebrate Easter mass at the Vatican as part of a Campus Ministry pilgrimage.

“[The pilgrimage] is so tied to the liturgical season,” Lichon said. “It’s simply just opening the space for the students to experience it. Especially when you’re studying abroad, there are students who come to a new city, and there are so many things to do, but we really put Rome in a particular light where we’re visiting all these churches but we’re not doing the more touristy things you typically might do.

“But you kind of see Rome through a particular lens, especially through Holy Week and through the current faith life in Rome — both the local church, that’s why we went to Santa Maria in Trastevere where you got a very vibrant Italian parish, but then also the universal church that comes together in St. Peter’s on Sunday morning. So I think that’s a really cool part of the pilgrimage.”

The pilgrimage began Holy Thursday with Mass at Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the oldest churches in Rome. Over the next three days, students on the pilgrimage also traveled to St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls, among other holy sites. Together, these four churches make up the major basilicas of Rome, the highest-ranking Catholic churches in the world and pilgrimage sites for thousands of years.

Senior Duncan Campbell, a Campus Ministry intern who helped organize and lead the pilgrimage, said the setting in Rome also gave students spiritual opportunities they wouldn’t normally receive.

“The location is definitely special, because everybody knows about Rome, everybody knows about Easter, too, and the two kind of go together really perfectly,” Campbell said. “A microcosm of what’s special about this is the Holy Thursday walking pilgrimage to all the churches.

“I would bet that there’s nowhere else in the world where you could do that kind of thing in that kind of time in that space — where we could visit 12 or 15 different churches in the span of a couple hours in the same six city blocks. I think that’s the kind of the thing that makes Rome special. And then also having Pope Francis here to celebrate liturgies with him and to know that’s the city where all that history is with the Church, I’d say that’s definitely makes it special.”

Junior Melanie Runkle, who is currently studying in Dublin, said she went on the trip in hopes of experiencing both Rome and the celebration of Easter in a more spiritual way.

“I decided to go on the pilgrimage to Rome because it was somewhere that I really wanted to travel, and going there on a pilgrimage for Easter seemed like a very appropriate way to see the city,” Runkle said. “I figured that on a pilgrimage, I would see a much more authentic side of Rome, as well as experience the city on a deeper level.”

On the pilgrimage, Runkle said she gained a deeper understanding of the universality of the Church.

“All of the other Campus Ministry events that I have attended have really only included Notre Dame students, so this one was different since we were a group of Notre Dame students that was part of a much larger pilgrimage of people from all over the world to celebrate Easter in Rome,” she said. “I really noticed this at Easter mass in the Vatican, and it was a great moment to realize that we are not only part of the Notre Dame family, but also part of a Catholic family that really is universal.”

Along with the four-day pilgrimage, students had the option to only attend Easter Sunday Mass at the Vatican, with tickets provided by Campus Ministry. The weekend concluded with a reception at the Notre Dame Rome Global Gateway, which Lichon said was an opportunity for students scattered across the world to celebrate the Church’s holiest day with friends.

“This is a great chance for [students] to reconnect, talk to each other,” he said. “It’s kind of like a Notre Dame family Easter celebration.”

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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