When people learn that I study in Rome, I often get asked about Pope Benedict XVI and whether I’ve seen him. Admittedly, one of the greatest opportunities of being able to study and live here in Rome is to be so close to the Holy Father.
We have numerous opportunities to see him, which start practically from the moment we arrive as seminarians. As “New Men” in our first weeks we get on a bus and travel to Castel Gandolfo, which is the pope’s summer residence, about an hour out of the city in the hill country. On the way, we practice a simple song in Latin titled “Ad Multos Annos,” which essentially means “Long live the pope!” After arriving, the New Men are led into the courtyard where the pope makes his address. The courtyard is filled with many groups from around the world waiting to see him. After he makes a few short addresses, we have our opportunity to sing for the pope, which truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Afterwards, we get a nice lunch by the beautiful volcanic lake which lies below the pope’s residence.
The opportunities to see the pope do not end with our orientation, though. Every Sunday when the pope is in Rome he prays an Angelus at noon in St. Peter’s Square, which is only a short walk from here. Additionally, throughout the year we have the opportunity to see and pray with the pope at the great solemnities of our faith, such as Christmas and Easter. All of these are, of course, great privileges, but the moment that tops them all for me is what occurred a year ago. It was the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the North American College in Rome, where I am studying. We had the privilege of getting a private audience with Pope Benedict. Around 500 of us waited eagerly for the arrival of the Holy Father in a beautifully painted hall with Renaissance frescos in the Apostolic Palace.
He arrived amid many cheers and walked along a cordoned-off walkway to shake the hands of those awaiting him. I was one of those lucky enough to shake his hand. He finally reached the end of the walkway, sat down and gave us a short address. He thanked us for the hard work, study and prayer that our college has put forth for the Church in the United States these last 150 years. Our rector then gave him some words of thanks, which were followed by the pope making his way down the walkway again shaking more hands. This moment has certainly been one of the most memorable in my time here in Rome, and I believe every January will remind me of this day.
My appreciation and love for our Holy Father has grown much. The duties involved with being pope are not easy, I’m sure. I know that the ministry I will one day be given will be difficult, but the joy and the energy that the pope brings to such a difficult office gives me hope that I may carry out my duties as faithfully as he does. It truly has been a great opportunity for me to see in person the leader of our Church, and I hope and pray that these experiences will bear fruit in my service for years to come. God bless!
(Corey Close is a third-year seminarian studying for the Diocese of Davenport at the North American College in Rome.)