Thirty-three UD Rome students attended Pope Benedict XVI's last public Mass on Ash Wednesday at St. Peter's Basilica. Traditionally, the pope processes from the Aventine Hill to the ancient Church of Santa Sabina on Ash Wednesday, but after the news of the Holy Father's impending retirement, the Mass location was changed so that more people could attend.
According to mathematics and economics major James Bernard, the students waited in line for approximately 2 ½ hours and were admitted to St. Peter's early enough to watch the priests practicing for the Mass.
"Being at the final public Mass was bittersweet," said English major Ada Thomas. "I was definitely struck by the Pope's humility. He wasn't giving a final performance, so to speak, but he was celebrating a Mass surrounded by those he loves: Catholics from all over the world and every walk of life."
Now that the initial surprise of the Holy Father's announcement has calmed, Romers are looking anxiously to the calendar. With Pope Benedict's resignation effective Feb. 28 and no official date set for the conclave's start, students are uncertain about how the papal election process will overlap the Rome schedule.
While Romers will spend March 1-10 in Greece, they begin the 10-day spring break on March 15. This leaves open the possibility, according to Bernard, that some students will choose to spend their breaks in Rome to witness the papal election.
"I'm hoping and praying that they elect the new Pope in between the Greece trip and 10- day because I really hope to witness this amazing moment in history," said Thomas. "If that means giving up my 10-day plans, then so be it.
"We are all just hoping to be in St. Peter's Square to hear 'habemus papam,'" said Bernard.
PHOTO: Romers in line outside St. Peter's Basilica on Ash Wednesday. (James Bernard)