UPDATED AT 4:30 P.M. on March 18, 2013
When they chose to study abroad in Rome this semester, a half dozen Washington and Lee juniors would never have guessed what awaited them beyond their academic work.
Standing in St. Peter's Square last week and watching Pope Francis appear on the balcony was "the most incredible thing I have ever witnessed," wrote Lauren Boone, an art history and business administration double major from Louisville, Ky.
"It was amazing to be a part of history. We definitely chose the best time to be in Rome!" added Ashley Cole, an economics and psychology double major from Riverside, Conn.
Ashley and Lauren are joined in Rome this term by classmates Anne Froemming, a psychology major from Montgomery, Ala.; Julia Martin, an economics major from Montrose, Ala.; Kingsley Mooney, an economics major from Lutherville, Md.; and Joe Morgan, a classics major from Louisville, Ky. All except Joe are studying at John Cabot University; he is working at the International Center for Classic Studies.
The John Cabot University students were in the midst of mid-term exams when the election began, but they made their way to St. Peter's Square anyway.
And they were unaware that another W&L student, John Paul (JP) Beall, a junior classics and economics major from Redlands, Calif., was somewhere in St. Peter's Square at the same time. JP is studying at Oxford but decided to change his spring break plans so he could be in Rome and attend the Preconclave Mass.
JP was interviewed by Catholic Radio-EWTN, and several of his photographs were published in a story about his experience in the Redlands Patch. We've added several of his shots below.
Here's what Lauren wrote about the experience: "I actually live right across the street from the Vatican; you can see St. Peter's dome from our balcony, which has been incredible. With everything going on at the Vatican, our neighborhood has been flooded with tourists and visitors. There is SO much more traffic, hordes of tour groups waiting all day long for the next smoke signal, and the streets are much busier.
"The mood in Rome has been one of excitement — people speculating on who the next Pope would be and making plans to go watch the voting results. My roommates and I went to watch the first voting result Tuesday night, and even then we thought that St. Peter's Square was busy. That was nothing compared to Wednesday night.
"On Wednesday, when the smoke first started coming out of the chimney, everyone around us thought that it was black, and you could hear a tone of disappointment in their cheers for a split second before they realized that it was white. People started screaming 'Habemus Papum' and pushing to get as close to St. Peter's as possible. There was cheering, crying, and laughing, even before anyone had any idea who had been selected.
"One of the most amazing things about the ceremony was when the man introducing the new Pope came out onto the balcony, and the crowd immediately became so silent that it seemed like everyone was holding their breath. Watching the other Cardinals come out onto the balconies on either side of the Pope's balcony after just electing him as their leader was unreal. Being in the square that night was the most incredible thing I have ever witnessed, and I will probably never be a part of anything like it again. News anchors were everywhere, asking how it felt to be there, what we thought of the new pope, and what we hoped that he could achieve. Honestly, we were just extremely excited to be there."
And Ashley's account: "What impressed me the most was the vast amount of pilgrims who came from all across the globe solely to be part of this moment in history. Just standing there for an hour or so, we heard over five different languages, and it really felt like we were part of such an internationally profound event.
"It was amazing that so many people could connect so deeply through their common belief in Christianity and the importance of such a significant world event. It was an amazing opportunity to be in one of the most religious cities in the world during such a remarkable moment in history, and I am so glad I got to be a part of it. It is definitely a memory that I will have for the rest of my life. We definitely chose the best time to be in Rome!"
And here are some more of their images of the events.