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ND students attend Easter Mass at the Vatican

| Friday, April 1, 2016

ROME — Though Easter Mass with Pope Francis didn’t start until 10:15 a.m., dozens were already lined up Sunday outside Vatican City at 6:30 a.m, determined to get some of the limited seats near the front of St. Peter’s Square.

About 130 of these people, according to Campus Ministry, were Notre Dame students and their friends, gathered in Rome from study abroad programs in London, Dublin, Angers, Toledo and other locations across Europe. Everyone had gotten their tickets to the Mass through the annual Campus Ministry Easter pilgrimage; several had also gone with Campus Ministry over the weekend to other churches in the city, among them all four of the major basilicas of the Catholic Church.

RomanEasterPhoto courtesy of Alex Coccia

More than 100 Notre Dame students attended the Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square celebrated by Pope Francis.

“Everyone comes from different experiences of faith and everyone came with different questions,” junior Emily David, the student minister in Rome, said. “That’s the beauty of a pilgrimage — you’re having your own experience of growth, but you’re helping each other.”

It was two hours before people would even be allowed to file into St. Peter’s Square. The Notre Dame students used the time to catch up — the line became a crowd as people moved up and down it, seeing some of their friends for the first time all semester.

At 8:30 a.m., the time St. Peter’s Square opened, approached, the crowd, now numbering in the hundreds, pressed together. “Don’t push!” a guard shouted in Italian, as the students were propelled, not of their own volition,  toward the security booths set up between Bernini’s columns.

The bottleneck of metal barriers was partly due to heightened security following terrorist attacks in Brussels. The United States Embassy in Rome had kept American universities and study abroad programs updated about potential threats, David said, and Campus Ministry had reiterated safety recommendations.

“There’s naturally a little fear in everybody, going to such a big event, but everyone still came, and that’s a clear sign that faith is stronger than fear,” David said.

Junior Aly Cox, who is studying in Rome, said she was still apprehensive about the size of the crowd.

“Honestly, I was a little scared the whole time that I was going to be a target at the event,” Cox said.

But the Notre Dame group made it safely inside, where they got seats — actual chairs — near a pathway where the Pope would later greet the crowd in his Popemobile. Then there was more waiting, as the square filled and ceremonially-dressed guards assembled. Students studying in Rome translated parts of the program and PA announcements in Italian for their friends.

After a Latin rosary, the crowd at St. Peter’s, now in the thousands, murmured and took pictures. Finally, a voice on an announcement system asked the churchgoers not to shout or wave flags once the Pope appeared. Flags from many countries were certainly visible, ready to be waved when the Pope drove through the square.

A moment later, once the opening music had begun, Pope Francis emerged from the Holy Doors of St. Peter’s. Everyone leaned in with phones and zoom lenses, then sat back as the Mass begun, the Pope reciting the opening prayers in Spanish-tinged Latin.

The service itself reflected the faces and flags in the crowd. Prayers were in Latin (and a Gospel in Greek), but the scripture readings were in Spanish and French and the intentions in English, German, Russian, Arabic and Chinese.

“It was probably the most actually global Mass I’d ever attended,” Cox said.

After the closing prayer, the crowd began to stand and cheer as television screens showed the Pope leaving the altar to climb into his open-cover Popemobile. The car moved through the square, past the people standing on chairs, with phones and cameras in the air, screaming the Pope’s name or just cheering. Pope Francis waved and blessed them, then slowly made his way back to St. Peter’s and, a moment later, emerged onto the balcony for his Easter address.

He spoke of infinite mercy, the love of God and the sacrifice of Jesus, which calls the faithful to show compassion towards the marginalized. He called for peace in Syria and between Israel and Palestine and in Ukraine. He called for an end to terrorism, wherever it was.

“May he draw us closer on this Easter feast to the victims of terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world, as in the recent attacks in Belgium, Turkey, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire,” Pope Francis said, according to a Vatican translation. “May he water the seeds of hope and prospects for peace in Africa; I think in particular of Burundi, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, marked by political and social tensions.”

He also prayed for migrants and refugees and those affected by climate change, as well as “those in our society who have lost all hope and joy in life, to the elderly who struggle alone and feel their strength waning, to young people who seem to have no future.” And, with a final blessing and to the renewed cheers of the crowd, the Pope withdrew.

The Notre Dame students, along with thousands of others, spilled into the streets surrounding the square. Many of them would attend a reception later that evening at the Notre Dame Rome Global Gateway, and, the next day, would fly back to their study abroad locations or elsewhere for more traveling.

But the luck of attending the Mass was not lost on Cox.

“We got to go to Easter Mass, the highest Mass of the year, during a Jubilee Year, with the Pope, and with the Pope who’s probably going to be one of the most influential Popes of our lifetimes,” she said.

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About Emily McConville

Emily McConville is a news writer and photographer for the Observer. She is a senior studying history and Italian with a minor in journalism. She is from Louisville, KY and lives off-campus.

Contact Emily