The Catholic University of America

March 20, 2013

CUA Students in Rome Witness History

  9/11 service day

CUA students in Rome Eva Maria Ghelardi, Mathilda Chanakira, and Jeremy Roca await the arrival of Pope Francis for his inauguration Mass on March 19.

“We had a new Pope. Rome erupted. People were ecstatic,” says Christian Grochowski, a junior history major from Tucson, who is participating in the CUA in Rome study abroad program. He was in St. Peter’s Square the night of March 13 when Pope Francis greeted the world for the first time after his election.

“To put it in perspective, the noise and energy level of St. Peter’s Square was that of the Super Bowl and the World Cup combined into one,” said Grochowski.

When they boarded a plane in January, little did the CUA in Rome students know that they would witness history — several times over.

“I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be experiencing all of this when I said yes to CUA in Rome last semester,” said Jeremy Roca, a junior theology major from Hampton, Va., who was in St. Peter’s Square at 5 a.m. on March 19 so that he would have a good spot to see Pope Francis on his way to the inauguration Mass to celebrate the beginning of his Petrine Ministry as the bishop of Rome.

“He passed by us two times before the Mass started. He is a people person, very pastoral. The Eucharist was beautiful,” said Roca. “We all cheered when the pallium, the wool liturgical vestment worn by the Pope, was placed on his shoulders, and also when the fisherman’s ring was placed on his finger.”

Reflecting on the past few weeks in Rome, Roca said the experience “revealed to me that our God continues to be present through His Church made manifest by the succession to the throne of St. Peter. I will forever treasure this time in my heart.”

 “Yes, we were this close,” said Jeremy Roca of his view of Pope Francis on the morning of March 19.  

“As the pontifical university of the Catholic Church in the United States, we have a very special relationship with Rome. Our students who study in Rome feel that connection,” said Ella Sweigert, director of CUAbroad.

“This program offers them both a spiritual and an academic experience. All of us at the University are sharing their excitement as this papal transition has become pivotal to their study abroad experience this semester. We are all so happy for them.”

CUA in Rome offers a liberal-arts intensive curriculum, which focuses on the history and culture of Rome. It includes the study of the Italian language and an in-depth study of the city from the perspective of different disciplines including history and theology. Site visits and two overnight excursions are part of the semester program.

Time at the Vatican is integral to the student’s experience. And this semester in particular, the historic resignation of a Pope and the election of the first pontiff from Latin America became an unexpected highlight of the educational experience.

CUA’s staff in Rome has embraced the papal transition for its many teachable moments. “The CUA staff has been so wonderful throughout this entire process. Whenever any important papal celebration or event occurred, classes were cancelled and tickets were provided if needed, so everyone could attend,” said Mathilda Chanakira, a junior psychology major from Germantown, Md.

Following are reactions from a few CUA in Rome students:

Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI
After they announced the resignation of Pope Benedict, we were filled with excitement because we knew that we would be present for a conclave. However, when the date of his resignation came closer and closer, we found some sense of sadness because we felt, at that moment, like children clinging to our father who bids us farewell. We went to his last Wednesday audience and it was so moving because we knew that would be the last time we would see him. For as long as I can remember, Pope Benedict was the Holy Father that we would pray for during the Eucharistic prayer. However, for me, sadness gave way to admiration for his great humility and love for our Church.
Jeremy Roca, junior theology major, Hampton, Va.

Announcement of Pope Francis

student in rome  
Christian Grochowski in St. Peter’s Square on March 13, the day Pope Francis was elected.  

When the smoke first came out of the chimney it looked black, but then there was no doubt about it, we had a new Pope. People started rushing to the center of the square so they could have a perfect view of the Pope walking out onto the balcony and pictures to prove it. As we all gathered like a can of sardines, smooshed into one another, a chant started to erupt from the crowd, "Viva Papa!" As we all eagerly awaited the new Pope, I looked behind me to see a sea of people, cascading all the way down Via della Conciliazione, the road leading to St. Peter’s Basilica, and thought, "I cannot believe I am a part of this, I am truly blessed." When Pope Francis started talking, he was so casual yet energetic in addressing the crowd. The way he opened his speech by saying, "Brothers and Sisters, good evening..." was a shock in a way because he did not speak of himself first, but he acknowledged us and thanked everyone for their love and prayers. The most transcending moment of the evening was when he asked each of us to take a moment of silence to pray for him and the journey he is about to undertake. 150,000 became silent, the only sound that could be heard was a siren off in the distance. I feel that his action of asking us to pray for him was beautiful, respecting the idea that he needs us as much as we need him.
Christian Grochowski, junior history major, Durham, N. C.



Inauguration Mass of Pope Francis’ Papacy
On Tuesday, March 19, I woke up at 4 a.m. and walked to the Vatican for the inauguration Mass. It was still dark outside, but when I reached the square there were a lot of people waiting in line for the Mass, scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. The majority of people standing in front of me were religious sisters and I heard some of them saying they had been there as early as 2 a.m. because they wanted to be in the front of the line. When the gates of the piazza were finally opened at 6 a.m., everyone sprinted! I had never seen nuns run so fast in my life. It was chaotic, but it was beautiful because everyone was laughing and chastising one another in different languages. We all ran and ended up in the front of the square. During the Mass, it was evident that people came from all over the world for this event. There were thousands of flags raised high, from all over the world, Africa, Asia, and many other countries. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget.
Mathilda Chanakira, junior psychology major, Germantown, Md.

Educational Experience


One of the best aspects of studying abroad is the ability to truly immerse yourself in the events of the city or country in which you live. Through my classes, especially my theology courses, I have been able to take advantage of all that is going on in Rome for the papal transition. Learning about Vatican offices, meeting Vatican officials, and even giving interviews to news agencies has been an amazing way to participate in the papal transition. As a history major, I am used to learning about historical events from textbooks. For this major historical event, I am experiencing it firsthand and I will remember it for the rest of my life.
Caitlin Monaco, junior history major, Eastchester, N.Y.




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