To begin Lent, students in the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts’ Rome Program were blessed to attend a Papal audience on Ash Wednesday, March Ninth.
“Like countless pilgrims before them, the students at the traditional papal audiences come to pay homage to the successor of Peter and recognize their part in the universal church” said Tony Assaf, Director of the Vatican Studies Center and General Administrator of the Rome Program.
“The Holy Father addresses these pilgrims with a spiritual message that will forever be recorded as part of the etching of his pontificate. At the end of the audience he imparts his apostolic blessing to them, their religious artifacts, and their families at home. This is one souvenir that they can only get at the Vatican.”
The chamber was filled with hundreds of Catholic pilgrims from Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, Mexico, the United States, Africa, Japan, Germany, Poland, Ireland and Russia.
“It was a beautiful beginning to Lent,” said Carey Bowden, a sophomore at Thomas More College. “To be in Rome, where the Catholic Church really began among the Gentiles and then spread out to the world, was an amazing experience. It was truly a pilgrim experience.”
When the Pope entered, all in attendance stood and cheered loudly, the room echoing with the thunderous cries of the faithful. The Rome students said they were a little overwhelmed at the sight of so many different nationalities uniting together to show their love and support of the Holy Father. Many pilgrims shouted out if their own language, “Long live the Pope!”
Pope Benedict XVI then addressed the crowd with his Ash Wednesday sermon in Italian, after which a priest stood up to represent each of the different nationalities and introduce the groups to the Pope. The Pope then gave a shorter version of his sermon in each of the different languages to the audience.
When the students from Thomas More College were introduced, they stood and cheered proudly. Two of the students stood up on their chairs so they could better hold aloft the Thomas More College banner while the rest of the group waved at the Holy Father.
After the sermon had been delivered in all the languages, the Pope stood and blessed those gathered, extending his blessing to their family and loved ones back at home.
Later the Pope led a procession to Santa Sabina where he said the Ash Wednesday Mass. Several of the Thomas More students managed to get seats inside the basilica with one being only four rows from the front.