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Students abroad in Rome react to historic moment

Sam Styker | Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement Monday that he will resign at the end of the month sent shockwaves around the world. But for some Notre Dame students studying in Rome this semester, the news hit especially close to their home away from the Dome.
Juniors Kelsie Corriston and Eliza Nagle are studying at John Cabot University in Rome with 25 other Notre Dame students this semester, just a 15-minute walk away from the Vatican.
Corriston said she was in her apartment and learned of the pope’s resignation on the Internet around noon local time. She said Notre Dame students were “incredulous” upon hearing the news.
“We were all really surprised, I would say,” she said. “We didn’t really know what it meant or why he was resigning. It seemed kind of out of the blue.”
Nagle said while the city seems “excited” at the news, she hasn’t been able to discuss the pope’s decision outside of discussions with fellow Notre Dame students.
“It hasn’t really come up in conversation outside of Notre Dame students,” she said. “It’s only been half a day, so I’m sure within the next couple of weeks people will be talking more and more about it. I’m sure it will get super busy in Rome with media.”
Nagle said while the first reaction to many such major news stories is skepticism, she sees Benedict XVI’s move as one of strength.
“Have a little faith in the Church. The pope before anything else is a servant leader,” she said. “He’s only here to do the work of God and lead the Church to the best of his ability. If he finds that he can no longer do that in some way, than perhaps it’s better for the Church if another person takes over.”
Corriston also said she thinks Benedict XVI’s decision displays his strength of character.
“It shows his humility too, the fact that it’s such a big change,” she said. “The fact that he’s putting the office above himself, recognizing that he’s served how he could and the Church needs to keep growing in a healthy way.”
David Younger, assistant director in the Office of International Studies, said Notre Dame students in Rome can now expect to experience the city bustling with visitors.
“As the [Papal conclave] draws closer, the students can expect Rome to be more crowded with people of every stripe: from journalists and pilgrims to protestors and those simply wanting to watch an historic event take place,” he said.
With the influx of media, Younger said students may have the opportunity to become a part of the story itself.
“I expect that international news agencies such as CNN and FOX are likely to have correspondents there and will be interviewing people in St. Peter’s Square, especially as events draw closer,” he said. “[Notre Dame] students may be interviewed by these news correspondents.”
Nagle said she is especially excited to experience the papal conclave, which is expected to convene sometime in March. She and Corriston are already making plans to camp out in St. Peter’s Square to witness the election of a new pope in person.
“As soon as I hear more details about when it’s supposed to be and how long it’s supposed to last, being a theology major, I definitely plan on camping out,” she said. “I really think I’m going to buy a sleeping bag and just go for it.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be living in Rome when this is happening.”
Corriston said she has trips to Istanbul and Prague scheduled around the time the Papal conclave might occur, but anticipates making an effort to be in the city for the event.
“I would be willing to change travel plans to be here,” she said. “It’s just such a historic moment. We’re just sort of waiting and excited to hear.”
Corriston said Notre Dame students are also already anticipating Easter weekend, when fellow Domers studying in Europe will converge upon Rome. Easter Sunday falls on March 31 this year.
“It’s exciting that it will be the first major service for the new pope,” she said. “It’s cool that it’s happening during the Lenten season. It’s like a refreshing, a rebirth of the Church.”
Nagle said students also might stop by the Vatican today to check out the atmosphere and also attend a papal Mass or audience in the coming weeks before Benedict XVI leaves his office.
“I’ve always admired him as a theologian,” she said. “I think he’s done a great job leading the Church.”
Nagle said the unique circumstance of the pope resigning – the last time a pope resigned from office was nearly 600 years ago – allows for a celebration of his achievements in the Church while he is still alive.
“I think this is a special time for the Church … to thank the pope for the things he has done for the Church and celebrate it,” she said. “It’s kind of interesting – when a new pope comes into office, we’re also celebrating another pope’s death. This is kind of exciting because we get hold on to [Benedict XVI].
“We’re not mourning, we’re celebrating.”
Younger said he believes the coming weeks will prove to be an “exciting time” for those Notre Dame students studying in Rome.
“I can only imagine the excitement that students would feel and experience being there when a new pope is elected and watching for black or white smoke during the elections,” he said. “It is truly a wonderful time to be a part of the Rome program.”