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The Suburbanite
  • Walsh University students witness the pope’s retirement at school’s campus in Rome

  • While American Catholics across the country sat in bewilderment at Pope Benedict XVI’s recent retirement, many felt rather distanced from the events. This was not so for a group of students from Walsh University in North Canton, who happened to stumble upon front row seats to the unprecedented event.

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  • While American Catholics across the country sat in bewilderment at Pope Benedict XVI’s recent retirement, many felt rather distanced from the events. This was not so for a group of students from Walsh University in North Canton, who happened to stumble upon front row seats to the unprecedented event.
    Michael Cinson, director of student life in Italy at Walsh, and a group of students from Walsh happened to be staying in Castel Gandolfo, the town where the pope was set to retire, at the university’s study abroad campus near Rome. On Feb. 28, Cinson and the students were among the first to stand outside the Central Piazza when the pope announced his retirement. For Cinson, this was a matter of chance.
    “I thought it would be likely to see a new pope at sometime in the future, although not immediate, but I never thought we would see the pope resign,” he said in an email from Italy. “I think this is such an incredible experience, and I am so happy our students have the opportunity to see firsthand such a historic event.”
    Cinson called the event “surreal.”
    “The last time a pope resigned, most of the world thought our planet was flat, so to be able to witness such a historic act has been an incredible event,” he said. “What is even more incredible was being able to witness the immense amount of love and support you see for the Holy Father, not only here in Castel Gandolfo, but throughout Rome.”
    Cinson said the group waited for a full day before the pope arrived, and this allowed them plenty of opportunity for media attention. He said the group was interviewed by Italian media, BBC, NBC and other news agencies from around the world.
    Walsh student Dominique Mougel of Hartville said she was actually in France when she heard that the pope would soon retire. She realized instantly that she would be in Rome for his last days in the papacy.
    “I was informed that we might miss some tours and might not be able to see some parts of Vatican City as a result, but it didn’t bother me because how many chances will I get to be in the city of Rome during an event like this?” she said. “I later realized that not only will I witness Pope Benedict XVI’s last blessing as pope, but I will also have the chance to see a new pope perform his first Easter Monday Mass at Castel Gandolfo.”
    Mougel realized that she would be in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
    “I came to Rome realizing that I am going to be witnessing history,” she said. “I am going to be able to tell stories about the different things I have witnessed here for years to come.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Mougel talked about the event with enthusiasm, noting that when the pope finally arrived, everyone in the crowd raised their hands and shouted in various languages, but when he spoke, the masses fell silent.
    Kayla Trautman, a sophomore at Walsh, also was in Castel Gandolfo to witness the event. She said she was overwhelmed by the media attention the group received and found the experience to be emotional.
    “I remember my friends crying right after the pope’s speech,” Trautman said. “They had cameras swarm them. When I wiped my classmate Maggie Carlson’s tears, I heard the clicking of cameras from every direction and I couldn’t help but laugh and tell Maggie ‘We’re giving them the perfect photo op.’ ”
    Trautman said the group joined together for pizza after the event and watched videos online where they saw the Walsh flag, which they had carried with them to the event, on NBC.
    “It was overall one of the most amazing experiences I’ll ever have,” she said.
    Cinson said Walsh’s presence in Castel Gandolfo began in 2007. The town, which is where the pope’s summer palace is located, sits about 15 miles southeast of Rome. Cinson said Walsh hosts three eight-week study abroad programs there each year, one four-week program in May and various other visits throughout the school year.
    “I think it is safe to say we all felt blessed to be ambassadors of Walsh to wish the Holy Father well and to let him know we love and support him,” Cinson said.
    The group hopes to be a part of a new pope’s Easter Mass in the coming weeks.

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