A student’s front seat during a papal election

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos by Emily Griffin, '14

Emily Griffin, ’14, is studying abroad in Rome this semester. She sent Loyola magazine a few photos from her brush with history at the Vatican over the past few weeks and answered a few questions.

Did you go to the Installation Mass for Pope Francis with friends or other Loyola students?

I went to the Mass with my younger sister, Abby (17 years old), because she is here for her spring break and our family week. Other Loyola students did attend, but the crowd was so vast I didn’t bump into any of them!

The gates opened at 6:30 a.m. I had some theology major friends (from Catholic University of America) who were standing outside the gates at 5 a.m., but I got there at 8 a.m. for the 9:30 ceremony.

Was it hard to get close to the pope?

It was quite packed when we got there, but I managed to find a spot right behind the barricade next to some very short nuns. It was one of the only spaces still available, but it was perfect for seeing Pope Francis do his drive around in the Popemobile! We were an arms-length away from him when he drove by! Once he drove up to our section, everyone was pushing forward like a mob scene, which pushed me even closer to him.

What was it like to see Pope Francis up close?

To see the new pope passing was unreal. I had seen Pope Benedict XVI at the Epiphany Mass and in the Popemobile for the last general audience, and as a Catholic that is something I had only ever dreamed about. Seeing Pope Francis was absolutely amazing because he seemed so down-to-earth, so happy, and so young and healthy! It was especially heartwarming to see him kissing all the babies. It is such an honor to see such a huge figure of the Catholic Church!

How did the crowd react to his presence?

The crowd was shouting “Viva il Papa!” the whole time! The crowd clearly loves Pope Francis, and you can tell when he enters the square because everyone starts shouting and applauding him! People run around the inside of the barricaded square to follow the Popemobile, and as the Popemobile comes into eyes view of your section, everyone pushes you to try and get a glimpse! The people in the crowd were all holding signs that show their support for him, and you can tell they absolutely adore him! Even the nuns get a little pushy to try and see him.

How does it feel to be in Rome while all this is going on?

I couldn’t have picked a better time! I still can’t believe I was in Rome to see Pope Benedict XVI resign, to be able to watch the smoke for the conclave, to be interviewed about the conclave outside the Vatican by CNN and ABC, and then to be here to witness the new Pope being inaugurated!

My faith is such a huge part of my life and it’s been a dream to be here. The atmosphere has been filled with suspense and happiness; as a Catholic faith we are all united by these events, despite the language barrier. It’s such a wonderful time to be here!

What has the atmosphere been like before the new pope was elected, when he was elected, and since then?

After we heard that Pope Benedict had resigned, there was a lot of talk about why. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of the rumors. Personally, I thought he looked extremely old and weak at the Epiphany Mass.

Everyone was so excited to be here for the conclave; theology majors canceled all of their spring break plans so they could be here to see the smoke every day! During the conclave, everyone was full of excitement and the air was filled with suspense. Waiting outside every morning and night to see the smoke with all of the nuns, priests, and tourists was unbelievable.

What was it like to be waiting for news of the conclave?

On the first night of the conclave, we (the Loyola students) ran from our Italian classes to Saint Peter’s Square, then we said the Rosary outside the Vatican with the seminarians from the North American College, who say Mass for us (the Catholic University of America program) on the weekends. The seminarians had brought candles and it was absolutely beautiful. A short while later we saw black smoke, and it was just so surreal and exciting to witness that!

On day two of the conclave we went with our theology professor to the square because he had an interview with CNN. During his interview, a few of us Loyola students (including Molly King and April-Ann Marshall) were asked to interview with CNN as well which was quite exciting!

Just before we were about to go on the black smoke issued from the chimney, and this time since it was the early morning we could see clearly the black smoke against the white sky, as we had not been able to see as clearly during the night. It was absolutely amazing.

Did you see the white smoke come from the Sistine Chapel chimney?

That night, my sister and I went to the Vatican, but it was so incredibly crowded on top of being cold and raining that we decided to leave early. After all, we were told the decision was likely going to be made Thursday.

As soon as we walked through the door of my host family’s house, they yelled “White smoke white smoke!” and pointed to the television screen, where we saw the absolute insanity that was going on in Saint Peter’s Square. It was absolutely crazy and so crowded. I had previously experienced the masses of people stuffing into the metros and walking down the street to Saint Peter’s Square. It is not fun! It is an insanity like I have never seen, and when the pope is involved the crowds (and pushing) are unbelievable.

What were people’s reactions to the news?

After Pope Francis was elected, everyone was very excited. There are so many pictures and memes of him going around that show how he is humble, lives the simple life, and is very down-to-earth. Personally, I really like Pope Francis because I think he has the right idea, wearing a cross of wood instead of gold, and living like “a fisherman instead of an emperor” as one meme says.

As a whole, the Loyola students in Rome were especially excited because Pope Francis is a Jesuit, and we take such pride in being from a Jesuit school. That made being there for the inauguration of the first Jesuit pope all the more exciting and special!

Has this experience been a spiritual one for you?

I am Catholic, and my faith is extremely important to me and influences everything I do, therefore it has been an extremely spiritual experience for me. One of the main reasons I picked Rome as my place to study abroad was because of the religious atmosphere—the Vatican, the Pope, all of the churches and cathedrals.

It was just the icing on the cake to have the privilege of not only meeting two popes but being here to experience the conclave, the goodbye audience of Pope Benedict and the inaugural ceremony of Pope Francis. It was especially exciting to see Pope Francis be given his ring! I loved it.

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