Vatican Intern Sean Hudgins Recalls Covering Pope Francis’ Installation

Sean Hudgins Pope Francis Installation
Lauren Colegrove

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 Sean Hudgins, who worked with the Vatican's social media team.

A year ago today Danielle McMonagle, Lauren Colegrove and I set our alarms for 4:45 a.m. so that we could get an early jump on the crowds that would be flocking to the Vatican. With a 35 minute bus ride to the Holy See, hours ahead of us waiting for press access, the installation mass itself, and a TV interview scheduled after the event, this was going to be a long day. What’s more, even with our press passes, it wasn’t going to be easy getting a good position atop the colonnade for Pope Francis’ historic installation mass, arguably the most high-profile mass St. Peter’s Square had seen in years.

I met the girls at their apartment and we groggily headed to the bus stop. With no time for our morning cappuccino e cornetto, we had to rely on our excitement to carry us through. It wasn’t caffeine, but I’d argue that the prospect of witnessing history unfold brought just as much of a jolt. Once we got on the number 23 bus, we quickly realized that the buses had been rerouted that day to avoid the numerous streets that had been closed off in preparation for the mass. Worried that we would be late, we hopped off as close as we could to our usual stop and made our way to the already bustling St. Peter’s Square.

Throngs of spectators, both Catholic and otherwise, canvassed the city streets, carrying with them signs, photos, flags, and any other items they could bring into the Square to show their support for the new pope. Amidst the multicolored sea of supporters, there were pockets of the crowd dressed entirely in dark black or blue; groups of priests and nuns who had made the journey to the Vatican alongside the general public to witness this moment of Catholic history in the making.

After showing our press credentials, with the boldly printed "STAMPA" emblazoned next to our faces, to several waves of Roman police and Vatican security, and having our backpacks and camera equipment thoroughly searched, we made our way to the line of reporters, journalists, photographers, and film crews that had come from all over the world to cover the event. We all gathered in a nervous huddle under a temporary elevator that had been latched on to the side of the colonnade specifically for the installation. (Riding this thing was like a thrill ride at the sketchiest amusement park. It creaked, rattled, shook and generally felt like it could come crashing down at any minute). When we finally did arrive at the top and exited the rickety elevator, we dashed to the railing and began setting up shop. Even atop one of the holiest Catholic structures in the world people still had jobs to do, which meant that we had to be aggressive about securing and maintaining our spot so that we could get the shots for the website.

When Pope Francis finally emerged in the Popemobile the crowd erupted. Suddenly the audience looked like a multicolored fabric-sea as Catholics from around the world represented their countries by waving their native flags. Others showed their excitement with a range of different behaviors; everything from screaming to praying, while other groups simply chanted "FRAN-CES-CO" with everything they had, over, and over, and over again.

It was incredible to see the level of respect and praise Pope Francis was able to draw, especially since few people really knew much of anything about him at the time.

After snapping off hundreds of pictures and compiling segments of video that we would need to go back and edit for, the mass was finally coming to a close. Pope Francis had left the alter, but the "Viva Papa" chants carried on through the square and flowed through the crowds which were now pouring away from the Basilica and out into the bustling Via della Conciliazione.

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