In October, Lauren Breck, an 18-year-old freshman at the College of Wooster, signed up for a visit to Rome as part of a community service program at the college.
She had no idea her visit would give her a front-row seat at the historic election and installation of Pope Francis.
Breck, a Medina resident and parishioner at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, said she and her fellow students were able to attend the conclave Mass and join the thousands gathered at St. Peter’s Square when the results of the election were announced.
“When Pope Benedict announced he would retire, we thought, ‘Maybe we’ll be there when they choose the new pope,’” she said. “But a lot of people thought it would happen before we went. Then they kept pushing it back, and just before we left, we found out we’d be there during the whole thing.”
Breck said the visit to Rome included students from Wooster and Case Western Reserve University and was sponsored by the Catholic student groups at both schools.
The goal of the visit was community service work and incorporating the work with prayer, but with the conclave and election of a new pope, group leaders made time for them to visit St. Peter’s Square. The students were staying in Rome and it was easy for them to attend the major events.
Breck said she and other students got in line for a conclave Mass at 5:45 a.m. March 12. The Mass didn’t start until 10 a.m. but because they arrived early, Breck snagged an aisle seat. The Mass was celebrated just before the cardinals met to elect a new pope.
“I was two rows away from the cardinals, it was just amazing to see,” she said.
The next day, the students had just boarded a bus headed to a prayer service when word arrived that white smoke was coming from the Sistine Chapel indicating the College of Cardinals had selected a pope.
“We hopped out of the bus and got to St. Peter’s Square, I would say we were standing about middle of the crowd,” Breck said.
She said the moment Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was announced as the new pope, everyone cheered wildly.
“The people from South America, they all waved their country’s flags,” she said. “There were a lot of flags from South America and they were really, really excited to see a pope from South America.”
When Pope Francis was presented to speak, Breck said it was amazing to see the square fall silent.
“It was dead silent when he came up to speak,” she said. “You’re surrounded by thousands of people, and it’s just dead quiet. It was an amazing moment.”
Contact Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.