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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

Students celebrate Easter Mass at the Vatican

ROME — The alarm was set for 4 a.m. on Easter morning.

Juniors Annie Richelsen, Elizabeth Crimmins and Derek Meyer — all studying abroad in Dublin for the semester — got up, got dressed and began the trek to St. Peter’s Square with a couple other students from the Ireland brigade.

The group arrived at the Vatican and got in a line around 5:30 a.m. It was another 4 1/2 hours before Easter Mass began, celebrated by Pope Francis in front of the historic basilica.

But the early wake-up was worth it, Crimmins said from her seat some 20 rows back from the bottom of the basilica’s stairs.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing,” she said as thousands passed through security checks and flooded into the piazza beneath Bernini’s colonnade.

Junior Elizabeth Crimmins watches Pope Francis deliver his traditional
Katie Galioto | The Observer
Junior Elizabeth Crimmins watches Pope Francis deliver his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" Easter message. The pope celebrated Easter Mass in Vatican City and traveled through the crowd in his popemobile.

About 130 Notre Dame students signed up to attend Easter Mass in the Vatican City as part of Campus Ministry’s Holy Week Pilgrimage, junior Claire Kramer, student minister for the Rome Global Gateway, said. Of those students, about 30 participated in the full-track pilgrimage — a four-day trek allowing them to visit churches and sites across Rome in the days leading up to Easter Sunday.

“Even though I’m staying here, I felt like I was on a vacation in Rome,” Kramer said. “I’m pretty sure we walked like a half marathon every day. I was exhausted by the end, but it was so cool to see all these special places on Holy Thursday, on Good Friday.”

The program included trips to Rome’s four papal basilicas, a walk up Scala Santa — the stairs which, according to Catholic tradition, Jesus climbed to be tried by Pontius Pilate — and Stations of the Cross led by Pope Francis at the Colosseum.

“Basically, instead of a pub crawl, we did an altar crawl,” Richelsen said with a laugh.

Shaun Evans, a junior spending the semester in Rome, said he appreciated the chance to experience the history of the Catholic faith over the course of the week.

“For Good Friday, I went to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, where I got to venerate relics of the true cross,” he said. “I went to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday in St. John Lateran, where there are huge statues of the 12 apostles — the ones whose feet were washed at the Last Supper.”

Evans said while he went to Easter Mass at St. Peter’s with his family, he was struck by the number of people from different countries — something which, he said, spoke about the universality of the Catholic faith.

“You saw the great draw it has all over the world,” he said. “Most of the Mass was in Latin. The Gospel was also read in the original Greek. And then a couple of readings were in different languages, the intercessions were in all sorts of different languages.”

Notre Dame students themselves traveled from campus and study abroad locations across Europe to participate in the pilgrimage.

“I booked the trip back in December,” Meyer said. “This is the one place we knew we were coming, and we were definitely looking forward to it.”

At the ceremony, Pope Francis gave both an impromptu homily and his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” Easter message. He traversed the crowd in his white popemobile, offering waves and blessings — which junior Maria Kunath said was her favorite part of the weekend.

“Even though the crowd was giant, it still felt to me like you were praying with the Pope personally — and that feeling was cemented when he came around in his popemobile,” she said. “And I swear, he made eye contact with me.”

In his homily, Francis called for people to hold onto their faith amidst a world of evil and violence, referencing recent bombings in Syria and other wars around the world.

“He talked about remembering people who are suffering and going through a lot of hardship right now on a day that’s so joyful for us,” junior Stephanie Reuter said. “I thought that was nice. And it makes sense — he’s been very attentive to immigrants and refugees his whole Pontificate.”

“I thought that was great,” Kunath added. “It was the time to do it because everyone was watching.”

In the middle of the Mass, a sudden rain shower sprinkled the crowd. The skies had completely cleared, however, by the time the Swiss Guard and band from the Mass processed out of the Square.

“I liked that — in the end, everything wasn’t just concentrated at the Vatican,” junior Becket Salerno said. “The Vatican went out into Rome, blowing trumpets and marching through the streets.”