Story URL:
Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 11:46:37 AM CST

Top Stories

Kate Van Winkle/MEDILL

Well-wishers gather in St. Peter's Square to wave farewell to Pope Benedict XVI.

Ready, set, pope: American students head for finish line

by Kate Van Winkle
March 05, 2013


Kate Van Winkle/MEDILL

Crowds gathered Wednesday in St. Peter's Square to bid Pope Benedict XVI farewell at his final papal audience.

Kate Van Winkle

American students in Rome look ahead to a new pope and a new era for the Roman Catholic Church.

VATICAN CITY - While the world’s cardinals gather to elect the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church and begin preparations for conclave, some American students in Rome are making preparations of their own.

“We’re going to have the radio on 24/7 so that when they announce that the white smoke is coming out we’re all going to run down,” said Kathryn Plazek, a graduate theology student from Pittsburgh studying at University of the Holy Cross. “Some of the girls that I live with started training now. They went to the park the other day to get in shape so they’ll be able to run down to St. Peter’s as fast as possible.”

Though not everyone is developing a papal workout plan, many students share Plazek’s sense of excitement and urgency.

“I still can’t believe that we’re going to be here for it,” said Kim Scharfenberger, a student from Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla. currently living in Rome “We’re going to be here camping out and we’re going to be running through the streets of Rome when they announce the new pope so that’ll be really exciting.”

Catholics around the world are still coming to terms with the unexpected retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, which officially took effect Thursday. For many, this interim, called “sede vacante,” is a time of uncertainty and prayer as the cardinals meet in seclusion to select a new pontiff.

Traditionally, conclave convenes 15 days after the end of the previous pope’s term, usually the date of his death. However, given Pope Benedict XVI’s unconventional decision to resign, the conclave rules have been amended to allow the selection process to begin sooner.

Though no official date has been determined, conclave is expected to begin March 11, which would ideally allow for the selection of a new pope in time for Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter Sunday. Holy Week is also the culmination of Lent, a 40-day period of penitence and spiritual preparation. For Kevin Weiss, a student at Franciscan University from Long Island, New York, this time is also foundation for welcoming a new pope.

“We’re already in a season of Lent so you’re all about preparing your heart,” Weiss said. “With Lent you’re already in a season of preparation and of reparation so I guess we’re kind of preparing in that way spiritually.”

Official preparations for conclave are already underway. The Sistine Chapel, where the cardinals will assemble for voting, will be closed Tuesday in advance of conclave. Despite an undetermined start date and a ban on official “campaigning,” the race for pope is well underway.

“Dolan 2013!” Weiss joked, referencing Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York. “I’m just kidding. I mean I’d love for him to be the pope just because I love him as a person … but I look forward to whomever the cardinals elect.”

While it is ultimately up to the cardinals to decide who will lead the church next, Catholics are showing their support for the electors in the tough days ahead.

“We had a couple ridiculous ideas,” said Philadelphia-native Glenna Walsh, a student from Thomas Moore University’s Rome program, “including our cardinal pep rally where we get up and dress in red and cheer for the cardinals like ‘Go cardinals! You go vote!’”