Last year when Pope Benedict shocked the world with his resignation, three Villanova University students who were interning at the Vatican became witnesses to history. Last week on the one year anniversary, we asked them to recall the day that Pope Francis was elected. Today, we asked them to write about the the day Pope Francis was installed during a celebratory mass on March 19, 2013. The following post is from Danielle McMonagle, who worked with the Vatican's social media team.
I slowly reached over and grabbed my tiny Italian flip phone sitting on my dresser as the all-too familiar ringtone blared. It was 5 a.m. The plan was for Sean to come and meet Lauren and I outside our apartment as we did every Monday through Thursday. We were leaving at 6:30 a.m., two hours earlier than normal. This was huge for me, as I am actually the world’s worst morning person (seriously — just ask Sean or Lauren). But putting my sleep needs aside, the real reason I would remember this day was because I would be witnessing history. On March 19, 2013, I watched the installation mass of Jorge Mario Bergoglio: Pope Francis: the 266th pontifex.
When I found out I would be working as a student intern at the Vatican, I knew I would be having a memorable experience, but I certainly cannot say that I thought I would be witnessing history. I began work at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications the day after Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would be resigning, something that hasn’t happened in more than 500 years. The next few months, the eyes of the world would be on the Vatican.
I would not only have the privilege of working as an accredited member of the press for Vatican News and contributing content to their social media pages, but I would also witness the historic retirement of a pope, and the election and installation of his successor. I was there on top of the colonnade structure in St. Peter’s Square alongside press from all over the world as Pope Benedict XVI had his final public audience as pope. I spent hours standing in the rain in the middle of St. Peter’s Square with pilgrims from all over the world until white smoke finally appeared in the sky and the beloved Pope Francis was introduced to the world.
While experiencing these incredible events, I was posting about them, sharing photos and other content on the Vatican News Facebook page, read and viewed by thousands of followers all over the world. I was also interviewed in numerous national and international news publications and interviewed on live television, sharing my experiences as a "Vatican Intern."
Now I was going back to St. Peter’s Square again this morning, as I did many mornings during my semester in Rome, but knowing that today was different. Once again, Sean, Lauren and I were standing on top of the colonnade, surrounded by photographers and journalists from around the globe. The 5 a.m. wake-up call was vital to getting a good spot.
We watched, as this largely unknown man from South America was installed as the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics and would shortly become one of the most recognizable men on the planet. I stood along with a crowd below of thousands, including government officials like Vice President Biden, members of the clergy, Catholics, non-Catholics, tourists and people of all backgrounds and nationalities gathered to this square and listened to the words of this one man.
I have to say Pope Francis’ overwhelming humility and kindness were evident immediately. Not only did he point out the importance of being a leader and protector in a humble quiet way, but also called on leaders and those with major economic responsibility to join him in protecting not only others but to “keep watch on ourselves”.
I struggle to capture in words the excitement that was created in the square that day. I saw a sense of happiness and hopefulness that was truly moving and awe-inspiring.
Later that day, Sean, Lauren and I did a live interview on the Today Show with Matt Lauer. As we recounted the installation mass and days leading up to this, I stood back and looked up at the majesty that is St. Peter’s Square and soaked it all in.