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Notre Dame connects with Church in Rome

Maddie Hanna | Friday, February 3, 2006

ROME – When Pope Benedict XVI began to descend the white marble steps of the Vatican auditorium after his public papal address Wednesday morning, he needed no introduction to the man directly in front of him.

The Holy Father took University President Father John Jenkins’ right hand with his own, placed his left hand on top of Jenkins’ hand and said, “You’re from Notre Dame,” Jenkins recalled Wednesday afternoon.

When Jenkins responded yes, the pope said simply, “A great Catholic university.”

“I asked him, ‘Keep us in your prayers,'” Jenkins said.

The conversation lasted about 30 seconds and ended with Jenkins kissing the pope’s ring. Pope Benedict XVI then spoke with Holy Cross Superior General Father Hugh Cleary and Trustee Father Carl Ebey, who also kissed the pope’s ring, in turn.

“I told the Holy Father I was a trustee of the University of Notre Dame. He said it was a great university,” Ebey said Wednesday afternoon. “I told him the superior general gave a copy of his encyclical [“Deus Caritas Est.” or “God is Love,” released Jan. 25] to members of the Board of Trustees.”

Ebey said Benedict XVI took his time speaking with members of the Notre Dame delegation as he left the stage after the address.

“What you saw there … was prayerful, respectful,” Ebey said. “He focuses on you. He looks at you and talks to you … He knew who Father Jenkins was and greeted him.”

Ebey said 48 Notre Dame trustees, officers and their spouses attended the papal address, with the rest of the group in Rome unable to attend due to concurrent Board of Trustees meetings.

Thousands of visitors from around the world flooded the Vatican auditorium Wednesday morning, lining up in St. Peter’s Square hours before the address was scheduled to begin. Benedict XVI speaks to a general audience each Wednesday and appears from his study window overlooking St. Peter’s Square on Sundays, said Thaddeus Jones, a Vatican official in the Pontifical Council for Social Communication and 1989 Notre Dame alumnus.

He gives “much fewer” private audiences than Pope John Paul II, Jones said, due to personal reasons.

“It could be a matter of the priorities he wants to give,” Jones said. “You can’t do everything … He’s his own man. He has his own style and personality.”

The address Wednesday was an explication of Psalm 145, which begins “I will extol you, my God and king; I will bless your name forever.”

The pope gave his commentary in Italian, French, English, German, Spanish and Polish. Before each translation, a different cardinal welcomed the speakers of the particular language, each time mentioning the specific groups in attendance and drawing raucous applause, flag waving and even synchronized chants.

When the English-speaking cardinal announced “The Board of Trustees and Officers from Notre Dame, Ind.,” the Notre Dame delegates – positioned at the front and slightly left of dead-center of the audience – leapt to their feet and cheered.

Jenkins clapped and waved to Benedict XVI, his forward gaze unwavering.

The pope then commented on the Psalm in English, discussing “the spirit of the heart of this progressively growing celebration of God’s majesty.”

“Far from being indifferent to humanity, he wishes to establish with us a kingdom of harmony and peace,” Benedict XVI said. “Indeed, he is slow to anger and abounding in love.”