ROME - Approximately 125 Franciscan University of Steubenville students attended the final public audience by Pope Benedict XVI last week and served as witnesses to history.
The students who are attending classes this semester in the university's Austrian program agreed to change their weekly schedule and moved up their midterms so they could be in St. Peter's Square to see Benedict on Feb. 27.
According to Emma Lindle, a university freshman from Cincinnati, "the day Pope Benedict XVI announced his abdication, David Pipp, the director of student life for the Austrian program, and Tom Wolter, the director of the Austrian program, began doing everything they could to make it possible for us to attend the pope's final audience. After moving midterms early, changing three-day weekends to two-day weekends, getting tickets to the audience and a vote by us, we took our final midterms and headed on a 14-hour bus ride overnight to arrive in St. Peter's square at 6 a.m. There we waited to be able to get good seats."
Lindle is a theology and catechetics student at the university.
"When everything with Pope Benedict XVI began happening it became very evident to many of us that God particularly picked each one of us to be over here so close to our holy father during this time. The time leading up to Pope Benedict's arrival was surreal to me. I was able to be in the very front of the gate where he would drive by. He has taught me so much about the personhood of Jesus Christ and his prayers for me and mine for him seem tangible. Being present to the moment before he arrived seemed almost impossible because what was about to happen meant so much to me. The moment he came out I began to cry. This man has given so much for us, for me. The mystery of his hidden sacrificial life just radiated from his eyes as he came past me. You know a man is just satiated in Jesus when he only has to pass you by and your heart learns to love in a deeper way," related Lindle in an interview from Rome.
She said the students have remained in Rome as part of their spring break and are scheduled to make the 14-hour return bus trip to Gaming, Austria, today.
"We begin each day with Mass and end each day with dinner, a holy hour and confession together. We also took a tour throughout Rome, going on the Scavi and Vatican Museum tours and have had free time to explore. We came to Rome on pilgrimage," Lindle related.
"Pope Benedict is a humble man. I read a blog post that talked about his decision as counter-cultural, for the world we live in tries too hard to deny age, yet here is our holy father not afraid to embrace his age and accept God's call in humility with his limitations," stated Lindle.
"Pope Benedict XVI knew himself so well that he was able to hear God call him to do something no one else has done. He had no one to look to in his decision, but God. We live in a time of an identity crisis. We don't know who we are because we are told that we can be anyone we want to be. We have no specific, unique purpose. We are whatever we choose. This is a lie. We have a unique purpose and it is only in Christ that we find this purpose and have the strength to say yes. Only in Christ was his holiness Benedict able to make this decision, but what a witness to us," stated Lindle.
The Austrian program is based in the village of Gaming, where the students live and study in a 14th century Carthusian monastery.
Students follow a four-day class schedule that includes a selection of courses from history, philosophy, theology, art history or foreign language.