VATICAN CITY — Studying abroad at Duquesne University’s Italian Campus allowed two Seven Fields women to witness papal history.
Sandi Communale and Alexa Peduzzi, both 2011 Seneca Valley High School graduates, attended two of Pope Benedict XVI’s final audiences before his abdication of the papacy on Feb. 28.
Benedict XVI, now addressed as pontiff emeritus, is the first pope to abdicate the papacy since Pope Gregory XII in 1415.
Communale had seats in the middle of St. Peter’s Square for Benedict’s historic final audience on Feb. 27. Peduzzi attended his second-to-last blessing on Feb. 17 and stood among a sea of people in front of the Pope in St. Peter’s Square.
Via e-mail from Rome, Communale said, “It was the most humbling experience of a lifetime to be in his presence because hearing him speak 10 different languages really put into perspective the universality of this unique situation and humbling to realize that I was part of that global community that I was literally surrounded by.”
Peduzzi agreed. She recalled the moment when the pontiff stepped up to the window and the thunderous cheering and flag-waving began.
“Upon seeing Pope Benedict, I was overwhelmed at the fact that I was lucky enough to be one of the thousands of people present at the blessing,” Peduzzi said.
The young women arrived at Duquesne’s Italian Campus on Feb. 1, and will study there in Rome until May 1.
To say attending the final audiences of Pope Benedict XVI was the highlight of their time abroad would be an understatement.
Communale said she and her classmates reserved seats for the 10:30 a.m. appearance of the pope, but had to claim them by 8:30 a.m.
“We were completely surrounded by flags from every nation, handmade thank you signs in every language, and a diversity of every kind of person, ranging from elderly clerical people to teenage Americans,” Communale said.
She felt blessed to be a witness of the last audience of the pope, which made her appreciate the magnitude of the event and its importance to Catholics around the world.
“When Benedict XVI first showed his face to the crowd while riding around in the Popemobile, an infectious excitement roused the crowd,” Communale said. “The cheering was mutual and understood in every language that was spoken that day.”
Peduzzi enjoyed the feeling that she was a citizen of a larger world.
“I eavesdropped on the conversations happening around me, conversations in so many different languages,” Pedozzi said. “It was really neat to see that although our backgrounds were all very different, we could all come together and relate through this experience.”
Communale said only adulation existed in the square.
“When Benedict XVI began Mass, it didn’t matter that he was stepping down from the position as opposed to traditionally dying in it,” she said. “Instead, it was a chance to celebrate the papal legacy and its history and its cosmopolitan effect on the world, evidenced by the dozens of countries that had representatives in the audience all there for a common purpose.”
She said the power of the papacy was evident when the pope spoke and thousands of people instantly became silent.
“The attention and respect he commanded rendered me at a loss for words,” Communale said. “When that moment hit, I realized that I had that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stand among the most diverse crowd in the world, in front of the man heading a 2,000-year-old legacy, and to experience history, not just to learn it.”
The women said pope-related merchandise had been on sale throughout Rome for some time before his final audience.
“There were rosaries and postcards around every corner,” Communale said.
Pedozzi said it is customary to buy items and have them blessed during the Angelus Blessing she attended, so she bought a pendant for her grandmother and had it blessed. She plans to have it blessed again by the new pope when he is elected by the conclave of cardinals.
“Although my grandmother is not here (in Rome) to witness the history, she can still own a little piece of it,” Pedozzi said.
The conclave to elect the next pope was slated to start Tuesday.