Viva Il Papa Francesco!

A few weeks ago guest blogger Matthew Billingsley shared a post about attending Pope Benedict’s final Sunday blessing. This week, guest blogger Nicole Dillon writes about witnessing the election of Pope Francis last week while studying abroad in Rome and what it means to her.

One of many media tents lining St. Peter's Square.

One of many media tents lining St. Peter’s Square.

Studying abroad – no matter where you go – allows you to experience and participate in cultural events that at one point never seemed possible, or even plausible for that matter. Before embarking upon my semester in Rome, I certainly didn’t think Pope Benedict would resign and that a new Pope would be elected, all within the span of a few weeks!

On February 28th 2013, to the world’s surprise, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he was stepping down as head of the Catholic Church and Bishop of Rome. Needless to say, there was a sense of shock throughout the world, and in Rome especially, a sense of disappointment and excitement. The resignation of a Pope has only happened once before (during the Middle Ages) and is considered fairly controversial. Accepting the title of Pope is understood to mean that one is accepting a lifelong position that can only be relinquished in death. Hearing this news disappointed and worried many, but it also excited many of us studying abroad in Rome because we knew we were about to witness history firsthand. I was suddenly thrown into the midst of a papal election that I never expected to witness.

Crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square.

Crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

With the start of the papal conclave a short time after Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, the Vatican seemed to be the new gathering place for all who lived in Rome. I would find myself in St. Peter’s Square twice a day, once in the afternoon and then again mid-evening. The first day arrived and the excitement was overwhelming. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the smoke stack and the jumbo screens lining St. Peter’s Square, waiting for smoke to appear. When the smoke finally appeared, the crowd erupted into a roar, even though the smoke was black (indicating that no new pope had been elected yet). The second day arrived and experts speculated that there would be black smoke once again. I still decided to venture out to St. Peter’s Square that afternoon, but when black smoke appeared again, I began to think that maybe those experts were right.

Black smoke coming from the Vatican chimney on the first day of the papal election.

Black smoke coming from the Vatican chimney on the first day of the papal election.

That evening, however, I decided to make the walk again even though the chances of white smoke appearing were unlikely. I waited and waited for what felt like hours for any color of smoke to appear. And then, incredibly, the smoke finally appeared and it was white! WHITE SMOKE! It was unbelievable! The crowd instantly roared and everyone in the square rushed to the front of the Vatican steps, waiting for the presentation of their new Pope! The chants of “VIVA IL PAPA” could be heard for miles.

From behind the red velvet curtains, a French Cardinal named Jean Louis Tauran appeared and introduced the world to the new Pope. Cardinal Tauran announced the name of the new Pope, (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) what country he was from (Argentina), and the new name he had chosen, Papa Francesco. Papa Francesco then appeared on the balcony and gave a simple gesture of a wave, thanking the crowd. The crowd broke out into constant chants of “FRANCESCO” to show their support and excitement for the historic moment they had just witnessed. Everyone had smiles on their faces and expressions of sheer happiness. I had just seen the Pope, been addressed by the Pope and was in complete shock that I was in the square to watch it all unfold.

White smoke signifying the election of a new Pope!

White smoke signifying the election of a new Pope!

My study abroad experience in Rome has opened up my eyes to the many differences in the world and allowed me to experience things I would never have experienced back home. Being able to participate and watch the papal election firsthand is a historic moment that studying abroad in Rome has given to me. Having the opportunity to witness the papal election reminded me of watching the same process on television when Benedict was elected years ago. I remember as a young child looking at the television screen and being in complete awe at what seemed to be the millions of people all gathered in one place for the same reason. I remember contemplating how monumental that moment must have been, even though I could not comprehend exactly what was taking place. Now, after being one of those millions of people that everyone watched on television, I feel a sense of awe again. Being in St. Peter’s Square as the Pope was elected made me feel as if I accomplished a goal that I never knew I had; now I realize how monumental a papal election is for the world.

Nicole Dillon Nicole Dillon is a junior Media Studies major at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. She is currently studying aboard in Rome, Italy for four months. Check out her Spotlight to learn more about her time in Rome and her experiences abroad!

Kate Kirk

Kate studied abroad in France, Hungary, Italy and Ghana. She now works at Melibee Global Education Consulting.

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