It was a bummer for a group of art history students to fly all the way to Rome and wind up spending days in the rain with no access to the Sistine Chapel. But being among the first to lay eyes on Pope Francis made up for it.
Daemen College professor Laura Sommer was in Rome with a dozen students, most majoring in art history, when the Catholic cardinals gathered in Rome to elect a new pope this week. For students who had studied the works of Michelangelo, being denied access to the Sistine Chapel was a great disappointment, she said.
“We were hoping there would be a trade-off,” she said.
The students were late getting back to Rome on Wednesday because their bus suffered a flat tire on their day trip to Pompeii, and their tour guide failed to keep to his two-hour limit, she said. The rain was also unrelenting.
“The students were miserable,” Sommer said.
They just missed seeing the white smoke when they re-entered Rome, but their hotel was fortunately located only two blocks from St. Peter’s Square.
When the bus finally pulled over, everyone took off.
“When it was starting, it was absolutely frantic,” said student Rachel Gau, 20. “People were running, trying to get pictures. Driving here was mayhem. I have never seen anything like this, so many people trying to get to one place at one time.”
But she and her schoolmates arrived in time to hear the announcement of the new pope and get blessed by Pope Francis.
Gau and Sommer hung back a few hundred feet from the square so they saw the pope from a distance. A long time passed, though, before anyone would figure out who the small white figure standing before the crowd was. People around her were saying it was a South African, even an American, before they finally talked to someone watching TV who set them straight.
Despite all the rain, wind and cold, they said, witnessing the history-making moment was worth it.
“This is beyond comparison,” Gau said. “It’s all just very exciting. It’s cold but it’s definitely worth it.”