Going Home

I’m going to have to apologize in advance for not spending as much time as I want to on my trip to Ireland, but I will do my best. After 12 years, I finally made my way back to Limerick. The last weekend of April was a long weekend for me, so I flew into Dublin and took a coach bus to Limerick. Even though the bus ride was long, I got to see the Irish country side (a lot of green, cows, and sheep). And who met me when I got off the bus other than my aunt, mom and sister? I was as excited to see them as they were to see me. I spent a lot of time getting together and catching up with my family. My mom, sister, and I went to Adare, got a tour of the University of Limerick by my uncle, went to go see my grandparents grave, and went to the Black Swan (a pub near my aunt’s and uncle’s house) for a big rugby game. I didn’t get to see much of the game because I met a friend of mine from home who is studying at the University of Limerick. I am proud to say that I did have a guiness and my first pint (of Bulmers). We then went to my aunt’s and uncle’s house for a big get together for dinner. On Sunday, my mom, sister, and I sadly parted ways as they went home and I came back to Rome for another 3 weeks. 

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This is Anacotty, where the Black Swan is and where one of my aunts and uncles live.

Again, I apologize for not going into more detail about this trip. I promise to at a later time. But now, I turn my attention to my last few days in the eternal city. Last week was my last week of classes and the start of finals. I had one big paper due each on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and I had my most stressful final (Italian 202) Friday morning. So, by Friday night for our farewell beach party, I was basically done. I did have a final exam this past Monday, but I wasn’t too worried about it (as in I started studying for it at 11 am and the exam was at 1 pm). 

Saturday, I went “church hopping” with a couple of friends. In the span of 5 and 1/2 and 6 hours, we went to 9 different churches. One of them being the church where St. Catherine of Siena is buried. (my sister’s confirmation saint).  I also went to St. John Lateran and Santa Maria Maggiore. On Sunday, I went to Mass at Santo Spirito in Sassia right next to the Vatican, partly because I wanted to hear Papa Francesco speak and partly because I made friends with a few Sisters who help with Mass there and work at the Bishop’s Visitor’s Office. As I passed St. Peter’s Square and saw a lot more people in there than normal, I realized that it was a Canonization Mass (no big deal right? :) ) So, I watched it for a couple of minutes before going to Mass. 

Monday, after my final, I went to St. John Lateran’s and Santa Maria Maggiore again with Taylor, then we went to our last Bible study at Santa Sussana. Afterward, we went to see the Trevi Fountain and the Vatican at night. 

Yesterday morning, I went to the Vatican (again) to go inside St. Peter’s Basilica one more time. I spent a while sitting at the tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul II, where I prayed the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It was a very moving and somewhat difficult for me knowing that it will be a while before I come back. I then went to go get my tickets for the Papal Audience this morning and to say goodbye to other Sisters that I have made friends with. Last night, I went out to dinner with a group of friends and then we went to go get gelato. This was my last time seeing the Pantheon. After gelato, I went back to the Vatican (once again at night) to see it one last time before it got packed this morning. 

This morning, I managed to get up for the Wednesday audience with one of my roommates and two friends. As we waited for the section we wanted to sit in to open, the guards didn’t tell us to move, even though they easily could have and probably should have because the other sections were still empty. But they didn’t because I’m sure that at least one of the guards recognized Taylor and I and finally the amount of time I’ve been to the Vatican has finally payed off. Also, one of the Swiss Guards was checking me out!! It was a really nice audience and Papa Francesco stopped right in front of us because there was a toddler right next to us that he kissed. As he did so, the toddler’s brother said something (in Italian) to Papa Francesco that I couldn’t catch and Papa Francesco waited to hear what he said, then he gave the guy a thumbs up. This all happened right in front of me!! Also, there was another Swiss Guard standing right in front of me when Papa Francesco came around in the popemobile and the Swiss Guard was pretty cute. After the audience, I sadly left the Vatican for the last time and I have to admit I did cry a bit. I came back to the apartment and packed everything up, helped clean the apartment, and charged my phone and ipod. I hate saying goodbyes and I do keep telling myself that I’ll be back, but I’m still upset that I have to leave the eternal city. These past four months have disappeared and I am honestly not the same person I was when I first came here. I leave tomorrow morning and I know that I will be crying on the plane from Rome to Atlanta, GA. :’-(

I will hopefully continue to post blogs throughout the summer as I’m settling back into the American lifestyle, so this isn’t the end.

Papers, Presentations, and Tests. Oh My! (Part 2)

I just made it out most of the woods called finals week. I had 3 papers due Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, as well as a stressful final exam Friday morning. Now all that stands in my way from enjoying my last few days in Rome is one last final. But more on that later. Now, I’ll continue as best I can where I left off with the last post.

On the Tuesday after Easter Sunday, April 2nd, I went back to St. Peter’s because I wanted to get some Easter Holy water. I also wanted to sit and pray at Blessed Pope John Paul II’s tomb since the 2nd of April is the 8th anniversary of his death. As I was waiting to get Holy Water, I saw a group of people greet a cardinal coming out of the Sacristy. I could tell he was a cardinal because of the red zucchetto he wore on his head. I went back to Blessed Pope John Paul II’s tomb and prayed the rosary and as I was doing so, the same cardinal I saw in front of the Sacristy came into the area where people can sit or kneel and pray and he sat down right in front of me! I also noticed that there were more people paying their respects on that day than any other I have seen. It was very moving to see. It was also a powerful and meaningful rosary for me because as I was praying I was remembering the very day Pope John Paul II died and how I felt then. I finished praying and left St. Peter’s just before 6:00, when they closed the Basilica to tourists. I later learned that an hour after I left, Papa Francesco went and prayed at Blessed Pope John Paul II’s tomb.

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Apparently it rained all around Rome, but not at the Vatican.

The rest of the week was pretty quiet, although the following week would be the busiest week of the semester. It seemed like all my professors knew when my best friend was coming, so presentations and papers were due and I had to take one or two tests that entire week. The only way I managed to get through that week was seeing my best friend after 3 months.

On Sunday April 7, which happened to be Divine Mercy Sunday, I went to Santo Spirito in Sassia right next to the Vatican, which has Divine Mercy Shrine. For some reason the two did not click because there was a big Mass being said by a cardinal there and the crowd was out the door into the street. Apparently, I didn’t get the memo of when Mass started so I joined the crowed of standing outside. After that, I went to St. Peter’s Square to pray the Regina Coeli (prayed at noon instead of the Angelus during the Easter season) and hear Papa Francesco speak. Once that finished, I managed to make my way through the crowd of people and started to look for the hostel where I was to meet my best friend. I had no way to contact her because I don’t have internet on my phone unless I have wifi and her phone didn’t work. We eventaully found each other and the two of us, along with her two friends, made our way to my apartment. We dropped off our stuff and I turned on my tour guide mode. I showed them a good meeting point in the middle of my apartment where my best friend was staying and the hostel where her two friend were staying. Then we went to see the Forum and the Colosseum. After that, Kaitlyn and I came back to my apartment because I needed to study for my exam that I had the next morning.

Monday after my classes, I met up with Kaitlyn and her friends and I brought them to Piazza Venizia, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navonna. I also brought them into my favorite gelato shop near the Pantheon. I wanted to show them a couple of churches, but some churches in Rome are closed on Mondays. A little disappointed, I tell Kaitlyn and her friends little bits of information about each place that I actually learned in two of my classes. Afterwards, Kaitlyn and I left the group and went to go get dinner at a good restaurant near my apartment.

Tuesday, which was Kaitlyn’s birthday, I took her to the Vatican. We quickly went through the museums in a half an hour (which is the fasted time I have ever been through them) because all we wanted to see was the Sistine Chapel. Satisfied, we left for St. Peter’s. I felt so happy to be showing someone St. Peter’s Square and Basilica because it’s my favorite place in Rome and it will someday be the place where I work. Going into the Basilica, I told Kaitlyn that I wanted to introduce her to someone special. I brought her around to the tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul II and it was in front of his tomb that I gave her her birthday present. I told Kaitlyn that I got it in the Vatican and that I got it blessed by Papa Francesco. I may have scored brownie points because I made her cry. :’) Anyway, we wonder around St. Peter’s for a bit and we eventually make our way to Santo Spirito in Sassia because I wanted to show her where I go to chruch sometimes. We got back to my apartment, met my roommate Emily, and the three of us went to go meet Kaitlyn’s friends. We all went to Dar Poeta, a really good pizza restaurant, for dinner and then we went to go and get some drinks. Emily, Kaitlyn, and I came back to the apartment and made birthday brownies and drank a bottle of wine. It was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. And I’m glad that I was able to celebrate Kaitlyn’s birthday with her. :D

The next day, I brought Kaitlyn to the train station where she caught a train with her friends to Florence. It was sad to see her go because it would be another month and a half before I would see her again. I managed to get myself through the rest of classes for the week because I had the Amalfi Coast to look foreward to.

I went to the Amalfi Coast with a group from AUR for the weekend and we left early Friday morning because we had a packed weekend ahead of us. Our first stop was Mt. Vesuvius. The bus brought us up most of the way, but we had to climb to the summit on foot. It was a difficult and steep climb up, but once we got to the top, there was a wonderful view of the valley below.

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It was pretty windy at the top, but once there, we went on a guided tour around the summit where the tour guide was telling us about how Mt. Vesuvius is still active, but dormant and that the magma chamber is about 30 meters or so under the bottom of the creator. It was all really interesting and I managed to see some steam vents around the edge of the creator.

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At the top of Mt. Vesuvius. The creator is right behind me.

We spent the afternoon in Sorrento, which is amazingly beautiful. Apparently lemons and lemon flavored things is a specialty there, especially lemoncello. :) On Saturday, we took a ferry to the island of Capri where we spent the entire day. I went with a group of people and rented a boat that took us on a tour around the island. At one point, we were able to jump into the Mediterranean Sea from the boat if we wanted to. I can check it off my list that I went swimming in the Mediterranean at 10:30 in the morning in the middle of April. It was very chilly, but fun! We also went into the blue ghrotto, which only had a 3 ft. entrance from sea surface to the top of the entrance to the cave. So, we all had to get into row boats in order to enter it.

Waiting in line to go into the Blue Ghrotto, I was entertained by the fish in the clear water of the Mediterranean.

Waiting in line to go into the Blue Ghrotto, I was entertained by the fish in the clear water of the Mediterranean.

On Sunday, we got a tour of Pompeii. It was unbelievable how it was so well preserved. What blew me away was that on some of the walls of the buildings, there was still paint and designs from the ancient city. The forum looked a bit similar to Rome’s ancient forum, except that Mt. Vesuvius was in the background. We then went to Naples for about 3 hours where we were able to get lunch (pizza, basically) and look around the city a little bit. From what I saw of Naples, I much prefer Rome.

Mt. Vesuvius isn't far at all from Pompeii.

Mt. Vesuvius isn’t far at all from Pompeii.

It was a busy weekend, but well deserved break from a busy week. Since it’s after spring break, classes are starting to have all of their final tests and papers due.

Buona Pasqua!! (Papers, presentations, and tests. Oh my! Part 1)

Again, I have to apologize for not posting as frequently. I’ve reached that point in the semester when everything happens to be due. A lot has happened in the past few weeks that has kept me busy. Similar to an earlier post, I will be posting 2 or maybe even 3 separate blogs to share about everything that has happened. This first blog will be Easter and Assisi and the second blog will be my week with my best friend and the Amalfi coast. And the third blog, when I can get around to it, will be about my trip to Ireland.

There’s no better place to start when talking about Easter than holy week. For Holy Thursday Mass, I went to the Church of Santa Susanna, the American community in Rome. The church was packed, as I thought it would be, and I was sitting in the very back. When it came time for the washing of the feet, I was one of only a small handful of people who was brave enough to get up and have my feet washed. This was one of those times when I felt every pair of eyes on me, which was a little unnerving, but I’m glad I did it.

Good Friday, I watched the Passion of the Christ to get me in the mindset of this solemn day. Good Friday evening, my friend, Taylor, and I went to the Colloseum around 6:30 to claim our spots, even though Via Crucis didn’t start until 9 pm. We sat on a ledge between the Arch of Constantine and the Colloseum and had a really good view of the stage where Pope Francis will be. The crowd grew larger and larger as it got closer to 9:00.

The crowd at about 7 or 7:30

The crowd at about 7 or 7:30

The crowd just before 9:00

The crowd just before 9:00

Papa Franceso arrived a little after 9:00 straight from Good Friday Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. He opened us up in prayer, then we read through the fourteen Stations of the Cross. As the Stations were being said, the Pope looked like he may have dosed off because his head was bent over, or maybe he was praying (I couldn’t tell from where I was sitting :) ). The Stations of the Cross finished with a short homily from the Holy Father at around 10:30 and then Taylor and I began our journey through the crowd to the tram to go back to our apartments.

Easter Sunday was another sunny day at the Vatican. Two of my friends and I arrived at the Vatican a little before 7:00 am to make sure we got good seats. More friends of ours arrived after us and joined us in line. As we were waiting to get through security, I heard a group of ladies in front of me talking with a familiar accent. I ended up talking to them for a bit and they said that they were from Dublin and Belfast. I got excited because of my upcoming trip to Ireland. Once through security, my two friends and I managed to get seats in the same area that Taylor and I were in for Palm Sunday.100_2557

After a beautiful Mass, Papa Francesco went around St. Peter’s in his popemobile to see everyone before he gives his Ubi et Orbi speech. This speech is only given twice a year, Christmas and Easter, and I was excited that I was able to hear one of them.

The Ubi et Orbi speech was given from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. The same place where the world saw Papa Francesco for the first time.

The Ubi et Orbi speech was given from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. The same place where the world saw Papa Francesco for the first time.

After Mass, my friends and I managed to make our way through the crowds out of the Square. One of my friends went to meet her roommate and my other friend and I went to a family run restaurant near the Vatican Museums for a wonderful lunch.

The week following Easter was pretty busy at school, but I had an exciting trip to look foreward to with the upcoming weekend. I went with a group from AUR to Assisi for a day trip. Out of all of the trips I took in Italy, Assisi was my favorite, and not just because of Papa Francesco. Assisi was one place I wanted to visit during the semester. The older part of the town was on a mountain and it was a medieval style town.

Part of the old town Assisi

Part of the old town Assisi

We went on a guided tour through the town and one of the first places we were taken to was the Basilica of St. Clare. Our tour guide told us that there was an order of Poor Clares that lived here, but since they are a strictly closed order, not many people get to see them. The outside of the Basilica was white and pink because of the marble that was used to build it and I thought it was really cool to see marble that was pink. Inside, we were able to see the actual crucifix that is said to have spoken to St. Francis. We were also able to see the tomb of St. Clare. As our tour guide was telling us where to go to see the tomb of St. Clare, I remembered that St. Clare is an uncorruptable Saint, but since her body was moved into a glass coffin, her body started to deteriorate and a wax covering was put over her body. Before I made my way down to see the tomb of St. Clare, our tour guide said that there was a Poor Clare sitting at a desk kind of monitoring the main part of the Basilica. I made my way over to the desk to get a prayer card and the Poor Clare told me and a friend of mine that she made small rosaries that she would give us if we would donate 3 euros to the Poor Clares. I got one, of course, because how many peope can say that they have a rosary that was made by a Poor Clare? It was really cool to actually see St. Clare.

The Basilica of St. Clare. Notice the different colored marble.

The Basilica of St. Clare. Notice the different colored marble.

After the Basilica of St. Clare, we slowly made our way down the main street to the Basilica of St. Francis. There is apparently 2 basilicas, an Upper and a Lower Basilica. We started in the Upper Basilica where we were able to still see the very colorful original frescos on the walls and ceiling. Our tour guide was telling us about some of the frescoes, but I didn’t pay much attention because I was supper excited that in a short while I will see the tomb of St. Francis himself. The tour guide also showed us where part of the ceiling fell down on top of the main alter during a major earthquake. The ceiling was fixed, but the frescoes were lost.

The Basilica of St. Francis

The Basilica of St. Francis

We then moved to the Lower Basilica where we saw some more absolutely amazing frescoes. It was at this point where our tour guide told us where to go to get to the tomb of St. Francis. She also told us that for a small donation, we could get a candle that we could put in a basket near the tomb that the Franciscans will use to light the alter throughout the year. I made my way down to St. Francis’ tomb and it was the most moving part of the day. His coffin is in a wall and I could just see the top of it because it’s in a high part of the wall. I stayed there praying for a bit before rejoining my tour group. Our tour finished shortly after this and we had about 2 or 3 hours of free time to wonder around the town before we had to return to the bus. A friend of mine and I went to a place called Otello (no relation to Shakespeare) for a delicious lunch, then we wondered into different souvenier shops and bakeries. When we got back to the bus, I felt sad to leave Assisi because I fell in love with it during the short amount of time I spent there.

So, this brings us to the end of part 1. Part 2 will hopefully come soon, even though this week is my last week of classes and everything happens to be due. But I will do my best to put some more of my adventures up soon.

A Much Needed Break and Celebration

I know I haven’t posted a blog recently. Last week was our Spring Break and school has certainly been keeping me busy. Although I didn’t go anywhere for Spring Break, I spent the week relaxing at my apartment, which I had to myself, and going to the Vatican. Out of the ten days I had off of school, I spent six of them at the Vatican. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m not in my apartment or in class, I’m there because it’s like a second home to me.

My first Sunday of break I went to St. Peter’s to hear Papa Francesco’s first Angelus. There were so many people there that they not only filled the square, but the surrounding streets as well. I managed to get into the Square partly because I was coming from Mass at Santo Spirito in Sassia with two sisters, who have become friends of mine.

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Even though Papa Francesco only spoke in Italian, I still love hearing his voice.

Monday, I pretty much relaxed in the apartment until Bible study Monday evening. I needed the rest because I had to be up early Tuesday morning. I got up at 4:30 Tuesday morning so I could be at the Vatican by 6:00 for Papa Francesco’s Instillation Mass. Security opened at 6:30 for the 9:30 Mass and nobody needed tickets, so I kind of needed to get there early. Security had everyone wait at the end of Via della Conciliazione closest to the River. When they opened the barriers at 6:30, everyone was literally running up the street towards the Vatican. It was entertaining to see so many people running to church, even though I was running myself. We all had the same goal of trying to get a good spot. We reached a point just before the Square where there were more barriers and when security moved those barriers, we all continued running up to the fence at the front of the Square. From there, Security was letting few people through at a time to go to the metal detectors. It was a time when I needed to use my elbows to push through the crowd, but that was kind of difficult since I had a priest on my right and a nun on my left. :-/ I eventually made it through and into the square. There were no chairs set up, so it was all standing room in St. Peter’s Square. I stood near some people who had an American flag because I couldn’t get a spot along a barrier. A few minutes later, a group of university students from the University of Mary come and stand behind me. I recognized the professor and priest that were with them because I had met them at the Angelus on Sunday. So as we were waiting for Mass to start, I was talking to one of the students and the priest. Even though I went to Mass that morning by myself, I now found myself among friends. Mass was beautiful and it was a bright and sunny day for it.

After Mass, the priest and the group from the University of Mary invited me to join them for lunch, which I did. During lunch, I talked mostly with the priest because he was the only one I really knew. At one point during lunch, he told me that he has two or three friend who work in the Vatican and if I wanted to meet them, he could arrange it. I told him that would be great and right after he said that, I told myself that I think I just made my first contact! :D When we finished lunch, I went back to my apartment and slept.

Wednesday, I went back to the Vatican because I wanted to go to Confession in St. Peter’s Basilica. Before going to Confession, I went into the Adoration chapel for a few moments to kind of collect myself. When I did go to Confession, it was in one of the traditional style confessionals, which I am not use to, but it was a unique experience. Afterwards, I went to Blessed Pope John Paul II’s tomb to pray my penance. As I was doing so, this class of young kids came into the area where people kneel and pray and they kneeled and prayed until their teacher told them it was time to go. That was very moving to me because Blessed Pope John Paul II is known for appealing to the youth and he continues to inspire the young. Feeling light-hearted, I left when I finished praying and went to the international food store to do some shopping.

Thursday, I went back to the Vatican Museums primarily to see the Sistine Chapel again since I discussed the artwork in one of my classes. The artwork and sculptures in the museums continue to amaze me, even though I’ve been to the museums three times.

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View of St. Peter’s Dome from the Museums.

I also went to Castel Sant’Angelo because until then, I haven’t been inside. I absolutely love it because it looked so medieval and the medieval period is my favorite part of history. I’m also doing my presentation and final paper on the sack of Rome for one of my classes and I wanted to get a feel and in the right mindset of what I have to do for my presentation and paper. But my primary purpose for going to Castel Sant’Angelo was to get a picture of the Vatican with the sunset.

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I ended up getting many pictures. And this is another instance where pictures cannot capture what I saw with my eyes.

Friday, I went to the Bishop’s office to collect my tickets for Palm Sunday Mass. Other than that, it was another restful day, although the internet router in my apartment started acting up and stopped connecting to my laptop. Saturday, I met my friend Taylor, who spent her spring break in Greece. We got gelatto at our favorite shop near the Pantheon and we walked to Piazza Navona to see the artwork there. We were also thoroughly entertained by a mime.

Sunday, Taylor and I got to the Vatican for Palm Sunday Mass at the bright and early time of 7 am and security didn’t open until 8, so we were pretty much in the front. When security did open, at the end of Via della Conciliazione, people were rushing up the street again, but this time on a much smaller scale. We managed to get very good seats because we were in the front row of the section in front of and to the left of the obelisk. So, we had a good view of the alter and a big screen, and Papa Francesco will drive right by us. The day was once again clear and sunny. The Mass itself was beautiful with the procession of the palms leading into Mass. At the end of Mass, which only took two hours…about, the Pope led us in the Angelus before going around the square in the popemobile.

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It looks like he’s looking right at me and waving at me!!

On the Pope’s first time around, I took pictures and on his second time around, I just watched to let it sink in. But the second time he came around, he stopped right on the corner right next to where Taylor and I were and got off of his popemobile. Unfortunately he didn’t come to where we were standing, but he was close enough that Taylor and I were freaking out. Taylor was crying and I was shaking. After Mass, we made our way home and rested. It had been a great start to Holy Week.

The Easter Triduum has been a great experience so far and I’m looking forward to Easter Mass at the Vatican tomorrow morning. I’m also looking forward to what April has to bring, even though I’m still getting use to the fact that it’s March. In April, I have a day trip to Assisi, my best friend is coming to Rome from Scotland for her 21st birthday, I have a weekend trip to Southern Italy, and I’m going to Ireland at the end of April where I get to see my aunts, uncles, and cousins, and did I mention my mom and sister!!! I’m so excited for what’s coming, but with all of these fun times, I also have a ton of papers and presentations that are due in the next month, which I’m not looking forward to. But hopefully, these trips and spending time with my bestie will help me get through all of my work.

I know this is so soon after my last post, but I forgot to add what I did yesterday. Yesterday I went back to the Vatican, primarily to get a newspaper. I started by going inside St. Peter’s Basilica to pray the rosary for Pope Francis I at the tomb of my good friend, Blessed Pope John Paul II. It was very peaceful to pray the rosary at the tomb of, not only a previous pope, but a pope who loved praying the rosary himself.

When I come out of St. Peter’s, I hear a voice coming from the speakers that are around St. Peter’s Square and people gathered in front of the tv screens. I go to look on the closest screen and see that it is Pope Francis I giving his first homily at his first Mass in the Sistine Chapel. I stayed watching for the rest of Mass, even though it was getting dark and cold. When Mass was over, I went to try and get a Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. They didn’t have anymore, but they said they should have some in the morning. I returned to my apartment a little disappointed.

Today, I once again went back to the Vatican. I know you are thinking I am very obsessed with the Vatican, and I am. It’s where I want to, and hopefully will, work someday. I went to go get a Vatican newspaper from yesterday, which they thankfully had, because it is the issue that came out the day after Pope Francis was elected and it has a big picture of the new Holy Father with the words Habemus Papam over it. I also managed to get some collectors stamps from the Vatican Post Office. One booklet has 2 stamps of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the other has a Sede Vacante stamp and an Habemus Papam stamp. Maybe these stamps will start a new habit.

Anyway, I am going to take a break from the Vatican tomorrow, but I will be going back on Sunday for Mass at a Church just down the street and to hear the Pope’s first Sunday Angelus. As a final note, I know this may sound random, but on Wednesday I was wearing my Pope John Paul II t-shirt, which coincidentally was the day the new pope was elected. :)

Habemus Papam!!!

First off, I have to apologize for not writing an entire blog on my trip to Tuscany. I’ve been really busy with midterms and, of course, being in St. Peter’s for the Conclave. I had an amazing and wonderful time in Pisa, Florence, and Trequanda. I’m in love with the Tuscan countryside and I definitely want to try and make it back.

Ok, so I, for one, was excited about Conclave starting on Tuesday. I have been keeping updated about what what was happening at the Vatican leading up to the start of Conclave. The Friday before Conclave was due to start, one of my on-site classes met early in the morning to go to the Vatican museums and St. Peter’s Basilica (all were open except for the Sistine Chapel and the two museums next to it). This was the first time I had been to the Vatican since Pope Benedict XVI left by helicopter. Being there during Sede Vecante, it really felt different. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but it didn’t feel the same being at the Vatican with no pope. My class finishes the day in front of the Pieta. Of course, before my friend and I leave to go home, we walk over to see Blessed Pope John Paul II’s tomb. Over the weekend, I planned on how and when I was going to make it down to the Vatican to see the smoke.

Tuesday night, I made it to St. Peter’s Square a little after 6:00 pm. I expected the smoke would be black since it was only the first round of voting. There were a fair amount of people there and there was a buzz about the Square as everyone was excited and news crews were interviewing people. But all eyes were set on the four screens that had a view of the chimney. At 7:30, we got news from the first round of ballots.

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As I expected, the smoke was black.

I left St. Peter’s thinking that from here on out, we could have a pope at any time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to the Vatican Wednesday (yesterday) morning because a midterm got in the way. But I told myself that I would get to St. Peter’s early in the evening.

I had planned on leaving my apartment at 5:15 at the latest to get to St. Peter’s Square by 6:00. I didn’t end up leaving until 5:45-5:50 because getting ready and eating dinner took longer than I thought. I was watching live feed on my computer as I was getting ready and seeing the crowd get bigger and bigger made me a bit anxious. As I made my way to the Vatican, I prayed that nothing happened until I got there because it seemed like the bus was taking forever to go the 6 or so stops to the Vatican. I eventually made it by 6:30 and there was a bigger crowd than the night before, though I wasn’t surprised. I weaved my way to where I was standing in front of one of the big screens so I had a clear view of the chimney. At one point it started to rain, up until then it was only drizzling. A little, old Italian woman, who was standing in front of me, turned to me and started talking to me in Italian. I couldn’t understand everything she was saying, but she wanted to share her umbrella with me. It was very kind of her since I had my umbrella closed in my hand and a rain jacket on. I thanked her and we stood in a companionable silence for a good while, saying a few words to each other. Eventually I was about to ask her what she thinks the smoke would be; white or black. As soon as the first word came out of my mouth, smoke started to come out of the chimney. It was grey at first, but I somehow knew it was white.

White smoke means only one thing.

White smoke means only one thing.

Words fail to express what I felt at this precise moment. All I can say is, I was so excited that I started screaming. I quickly make my way to get as close to St. Peter’s Basilica as I can and at the same time, I’m calling my mom and telling her that there’s white smoke and that she needs to turn on the news. Then, I call one of my friends who was watching from somewhere else in Rome and I tell her that she needed to get to the Vatican as quickly as she could. As we awaited news, the rain had stopped (I wouldn’t argue that God made it stop raining for the Pope).

I'm not too terribly far away from where I was standing.

I’m not too terribly far away from the balcony, but this may be zoomed in a little.

After a very long hour of growing anticipation, Cardinal Tauran came out onto the balcony and announced the famous words: “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum, Habemus Papam!” It’s one thing to hear those words eight years ago on tv, it’s another thing to hear those words in person. It was so special to hear them. When he announced Cardinal Bergoglio is Pope Francis I, I immediately thought he is Italian by his last name, until the people around me said he is from Argentina. Anticipation and excitement was growing with every passing second till the time the new pope came out onto the balcony.

When the Cardinals came out to the side balconies, all of St. Peter’s erupts in shouts, screams, and clapping because everybody knew that the Pope was right behind them. When Pope Francis came out on the balcony everyone started cheering “Francisco” and “Viva il Papa” for at least 2 to 3 minutes. After everyone quieted down and Pope Francis started talking, I could tell by the sound of his voice and what he was saying that he is going to be a good pope and he is going to be good for the Church. When he asked for a moment of silence, the entire Square, and I’m sure down Via della Conciliazione as well, was in complete silence. You would think there would be some noise because it’s hard to make a huge crowd, like the one in St. Peter’s, to be completely silent, but there was absolutely no noise for that moment.

After Pope Francis and the cardinals went back into the Basilica, people started to leave, but I decided to hang around for a bit to let most of the crowd go. I managed to find two of my roommates and a group of my friends and we started talking about everything that just happened.

I'm excitedly waving my flag after hearing and seeing the new Pope.

I’m excitedly waving my flag after hearing and seeing the new Pope.

I part from my friends to go look for the RTE, a big Irish news network, at one of the “press tents.” I have no such luck finding the RTE, but you would not believe who I did manage to find…

Anderson Cooper!!!!

Anderson Cooper!!!!

Never in my life had I thought of seeing Anderson Cooper, let alone meet him. I started taking pictures of him and I call home to tell them who I am close to and to turn on CNN. And it doesn’t stop there. I managed to push my way to the front to get my picture with him, but he was so focused on the people around me and talking with his film crew that I didn’t get a chance at first. Then he goes on air. I wasn’t expecting to be in the front when he was on air, but I thought it was cool to be in the background. At least my family got to see me at home. But then he turns around and asks us how we’re doing and where we’re from. He points the mic to the guy to my left, to me, and to the two ladies to my right. He asks the four of us different questions and I couldn’t believe that this was happening.  He asked me how long I was at the Vatican and I answered two hours. And he said something to the extent of, “You waited in the rain? Most people would have left.” And I answered that I just had a good feeling about tonight. The last question he asked me was what I thought of the new pope (I think) and apparently the answer I gave was a good one because a priest who was standing behind me said that it was a very good answer that he may not have said. I was on such an adrenaline high, that I don’t remember all of what I said. After the interview was over, I finally got my picture with Anderson Cooper. He was really nice about taking pictures with people and signing autographs, and yes, I have to say, he is quite cute (I think many people would agree with me on that).

I start to walk to a bus stop down at the end of Via della Conciliazione when another reporter stopped me to ask me questions. It was just one guy with a camera and a mic. After I answer his questions, I continue on my way to find a bus when another crew asks me in Italian if they could ask me questions. I told them in Italian that I didn’t speak much Italian, but I spoke English. So, they asked me a few questions in English. All were basically about what I thought of the new pope. So, I was interviewed a grand total of 3 times. I left the Vatican with a smile on my face and a spring in my step all because I was in the right place at the right time.

I finally made it home at about 10:45 still on an adrenaline high and for a good two hours, I talked with family and friends at home. By the time I finish making calls, it was about 1:00 am and I needed to get up at 7:00 for class. I was not tired to the point that I could not and did not sleep well because my mind was racing with everything that happened. The one class I had this morning was my religion class. We spent the first 30-45 minutes talking about Pope Francis before we moved on to talk about Vatican II. I was still on that adrenaline high this morning, but now I’m starting to feel it wear off.

I’m looking forward in trying to attend the Pope’s installation Mass next Tuesday. We’ll see how that goes since it’s open to the general public and it’s an early Mass. If it doesn’t work out, I have tickets to Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday Mass at the Vatican. So, for now, I ask that everyone pray for our new Pope as he starts his journey as leader of the Church.

Pope Francis I saying his first Mass as pope in the Sistine Chapel with the Cardinals.

Pope Francis I saying his first Mass as pope in the Sistine Chapel with the Cardinals this afternoon/evening.