UW Study Abroad Student Present at a Moment in History

I will not be in Rome on Friday (today), however I did go to Rome this past Monday for the procession of the body. I can tell you a little about what is going on around me and what has gone on. Here’s what I witnessed.

I am studying in Florence through the UW/Mich program and we are living in a Villa 30 min outside of the city. Our group of 60 students had just returned from a long day of hiking in cinque terre (north west Italy). We were all tired and anxious to read emails from home. There were around 12 students in the computer lab when someone read on CNN that the Pope passed away. Everyone went silent. It was surreal. We all realized we were in Italy and it was a big deal to be here. I think only three of us were Catholic but that did not matter. Soon conversations began about what the Pope had done and how influential he was and how the country would handle this death.

The following four days were labeled ‘days of remembrance’. I went to Rome on Monday with three other students. I am Catholic and I did feel compelled to go and pay my respects, but I also wanted to partake in this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. The Pope’s body was to be put out for viewing that day. We arrived around 10.30 am and went into St. Peter’s Basilica. At 1pm we were all kicked out. We waited in St. Peter’s Square until 5pm when the procession began. There were around 2500 people in the square. Security would not allow anyone else in. Surrounding us maybe I could see tens of thousands of people. They filled the streets. All ages, all nationalities. It was amazing to see so many people come, to not only mourn the loss of a great man, but also to celebrate his life. The scene was not sadness, but more of inspiration or readiness for the future to come. This saint was not only the first non -Italian in 200 years which made him unique but he was an excellent diplomat world-wide and was revered and respected by so many. I was expecting more mourners, and yes there were tears shed, but I saw more people who had just come to see the Pope for the last time. The possession was unbelievable. There were pall bearers, and Swiss guards and then all the cardinals followed. I had never seen so many clergy in one area. When the procession came to the front of the Basilica the guards sort of tilted Pope John forward for the world to see. He was simple laying on a red, velvet board. The body was then laid at the high altar and the line formed for viewing. People were not allowed in until 9pm (to gain order I’m guessing.) We were not able to stay, and felt that we had experienced this once in a lifetime event and were ready to go back to Florence.

Overall the people amazed me. The span of them was something to see in itself. Also it was interesting to see so many different sects of the church present. Priests, nuns, ministers were scattered throughout the crowd. I thought it was surreal to be able to be a part of the remembrance of our late pope.