Ash Wednesday with Benedict XVI

The announcement of Benedict XVI’s resignation from the papacy came right after class on Monday, and the following wait in the lunch line was about as loud as I’ve heard it here. To be in Rome for this historic occasion!

On Ash Wednesday, as the Pope prepared to celebrate his final public mass, many of my classmates and I staked out a spot near the beginning of the line at St. Peter’s, studying for the looming Western Civilization test. Two hours after we joined the line, security was opened up at 15:30, and we scrambled to keep up with the wave of people. The other Maria claims her feet weren’t on the ground for parts of the rush into the gates. I believe her.

Sitting on the right side of the altar, in the middle of the pack, I flipped through the mass booklet, took a nap, and when the lights in St. Peter’s were turned on, gazed at the lit up basilica. (Usually, there is minimal lighting in the church.)

The entrance procession began a little after 17:00. I spotted Cardinal Burke, the last archbishop of St. Louis, and then the Pope came into sight, standing on a moving platform. The last time I’d seen the Benedict XVI was when he visited the U.S. in 2008, at the youth rally in Yonkers, NY, and the decline in his health was apparent, but his voice throughout the celebration of the Mass remained strong.

Right before the end of Mass, Cardinal Bertone, the Pope’s right hand man, addressed the Pope. Despite the speech’s Italian delivery, he was clearly thanking the Pope for all he had done in the past 8 years of his pontificate. At the conclusion, we gave Benedict a standing ovation that seemed to go on forever. With all 10,000 occupants applauding, it sounded as though rain were falling inside. It was all very poetic.

After stepping through the Porta Sancta, the great doors that create the middle entrance into St. Peter’s (usually only opened during a Jubilee Year), I managed not to get trampled for a second time, and made the mad dash back to campus for dinner.

I apologize profusely for the lack of photographs…I forgot to bring my camera in the excitement of the day.

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