Witness to history
Woman makes pilgrimage to Rome, witnesses naming of new pope
When Rose House began planning in December for her trip to Rome, she didn't expect she would witness history in the making.
The Eudora resident recently returned from a trip with friends where she was among hundreds of thousands of people who witnessed the unveiling of a new leader for the Roman Catholic Church.
House was joined on her trip by friends Karen and Earl Glynn of Overland Park and the Rev. Norbert Lickteig, formerly of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Eudora.
House said when she and her friends first planned to visit Rome, they had hoped to be there in time to have an audience with Pope John Paul II. But because of his death on April 2, the travelers found themselves in Rome at a historic time.
House said when the group arrived in Rome on the morning of April 17 she could feel the energy of the people there, anticipating the selection of a new pope.
"It was a very electric atmosphere there because of the conclave getting ready to begin Monday," she said.
During their stay in Rome, House and her company stayed in a religious house run by nuns, which had modest accommodations.
This was House's first European trip, and she said she was amazed by all the old and historic structures that surrounded her.
"We were so in awe of the buildings," she said.
The group's tour guide, a young Italian woman named Michela, had to teach them about the Sistine Chapel from pictures on display outside the building, because the chapel was closed for the conclave.
"To me it was a very emotional moment to think that there were 115 cardinals in there electing the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church," House said. "It was more than a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was very humbling."
When House first entered the St. Peter's Basilica, she said she was overwhelmed by a
feeling that she was in a sacred place.
"I felt like I should go in there on my knees," she said. "It is so sacred."
She said she had similar feelings when visiting the tomb of Pope John Paul II.
"That's a sacred place, too," she said. "I felt like I was passing by the resting place of a saint."
House and Karen Glynn spent much of their time in Rome visiting religious monuments. During those times the women prayed for their families, for the gift of faith, for a safe journey and for the selection of a new pope.
On the evening of April 19, House was attending a mass service while news of a new pope was spreading through the streets of Rome.
"At the end of the mass, someone went up to the choir and said something," House said.
Because the message "Habemus Papam" was in Italian, House had to turn to her tour guide for an explanation. Michela told her: "We have a pope."
"The crowd just erupted in cheers," House said.
At the news, House and her friends immediately began finding their way to St. Peter's Square, where they hoped they would see the new pope.
"Every church bell in Rome was pealing," she said.
House said the traffic toward St. Peter's Basilica was so heavy that streets were blocked off and people were leaving their cars in the road to walk the rest of the way.
After running about two miles to St. Peter's Square, House arrived just in time to witness Joseph Ratzinger being presented as the new pope, Benedict XVI.
"We were there about 90 seconds," House said. "They dropped this banner and a huge cheer went up."
According to reports of the event, there were about 500,000 people in the square when the new pope greeted the crowd for the first time. But even with such a large crowd, House said she could have heard a pin drop during the pope's first papal blessing.
"At the last Amen, there were huge cheers of 'Viva la Papa,' 'Long live the Pope,'" House said.
She said she didn't realize the magnitude of what she had seen until after it was over.
"It didn't really hit me until after it was over the history I had just witnessed," she said. "It was very faith deepening, and our whole pilgrimage was like that."