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Domers in Roma

Carter Boyd | Tuesday, March 26, 2013

As I fondly reflect back to the first Saturday of spring break, I was sitting at the Chicago O’Hare airport, not fully realizing the pilgrimage to Rome I was embarking on only could have been planned by God.
My fellow Domers and I were waiting at our gate when CNN footage appeared on the TV monitors showing workers atop the roof of the Sistine Chapel installing the chimney used in sending up the salient smoke signals during the conclave to elect the next pope. At this point, we knew the conclave was commencing the upcoming Tuesday, and our excitement escalated knowing we would be in Rome during the proceedings of the conclave.
Throughout the rather lengthy trans-Atlantic flight, I pondered the magnitude of the experience I was going to have the amazing opportunity to be attending. After stepping off the plane in Italy, however, I still did not fully comprehend the importance of the events that were to proceed and the significance of my attendance during this historic time in our faith.
The second day of our trip, the day before the start of the conclave, we journeyed by train across the rolling hills of the stunning Italian countryside to the humble town of Assisi.  Assisi, well-known through the stories of St. Francis and St. Claire who lived there, abounded with an ordinary but unique, simple yet extravagant, and quiet nonetheless thundering, power and peace.
 As part of our pilgrimage, we had a moving Mass in the Basilica of St. Francis.  Individually, we experienced a deep sense of meditation and reflection at the tomb of St. Francis. Little did we know how providential our time was in Assisi. The time in Assisi was incredible as we walked through the life of St. Francis, not knowing two days later our next pope would choose to bear the name of the poor friar of Assisi.
Tuesday, the start of the conclave, we were blessed to be able to attend the opening Mass with the cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica. Presiding over the Mass was the dean of the College of Cardinals and concelebrating alongside him were the more than 115 cardinals participating in the conclave. This was one of the most beautiful Masses of my life, as St. Peter’s was filled with members of the universal Church from across the globe.
I had learned and acknowledged that the Catholic faith was a global church, but this fact became real to me in an imposing way during this Mass. At least 15 different languages were spoken throughout the Mass. Each reading was proclaimed in a different language and the prayers of the faithful were lifted up in a similar fashion.
It was overwhelming to be a part of a Mass containing so many different peoples, yet realizing that we were not different at all. Transcending our mere cultural and lingual differences we were all the same ­­- one people and Church connected as brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing the same ideals, mission, faith, hope and love for a benevolent and merciful God who guides our lives through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Wednesday around noon, I was standing in St. Peter’s Square on the third decade of praying the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosaries. The interruption was far from glorious.  
I looked up in response to the cries of the people around me to see a distinct blackest of blacks smoke arising from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel set against the gloom of the clouds of that rainy day in Rome. I have carried my fair share of disappointments, but the black smoke instigated an indescribable void of despair in me.
While I quickly regained a prayerful hope and faith in the workings of the Holy Spirit in the election process, that instant was the closest I have felt to understanding the desolation of the apostles and Jesus’ followers immediately after his death. In retrospect, without this brief fleeting moment of dejection, Wednesday night’s election would not have been the glorious fulfillment of the Church’s hopes and prayers.
 Praying, hoping and standing in the rain Wednesday night, white smoke sparked a boisterous exuberant roar of more than 100,000 people, ending the wait and evoking the celebration in St. Peter’s Square.
The bells rang through the night, the crowds sang the Salve Regina, hugs were given amidst the sea of people, “Viva il Papa” cheers resounded through the colonnade of the Square. Joy, bliss, cheer, jubilance, delight, elation, glee, wonder, awe and mystery. After the new pope’s name was announced, “Francesco, Francesco, Francesco!” was all I could hear.
Then Pope Francis appeared on the balcony, a humble, lively, holy man. His words comforted me despite my little Italian comprehension. And as I reflect, I am blessed to have shared this amazing experience with my Notre Dame family. It was great to be a Domer in Roma.
The love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit was visible and moving through the assembled crowd, the cardinals and Pope Francis. In time with faith, God will grant me the understanding and gratitude to be able to comprehend the magnitude, radiance and eminence of these moments. For now, I thank God for the blessing of Papa Francesco.

Carter Boyd is a freshman studying science-business. He can be reached at
[email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.