Seven Walsh University students watched with the crowd that gathered at the papal vacation retreat to witness Pope Benedict XVI’s final public words.
The global learning students climbed a steep, half-mile hill from the university’s campus in Castel Gandolfo to the papal retirement residence, arriving about 9:30 a.m. Thursday. During their eight-hour wait for the pope’s appearance, they witnessed the mood of the crowd go from fun and playful to deeply emotional.
“We were among the first to arrive. There was a lot of buildup while we waited,” said Gia Cappabianca, 19, of Youngstown. “At first, we were really excited and having a lot of fun. Then as the time for him to arrive got closer, it became more spiritual.
“When he came out, it became really personal and emotional. It was so special, being with the pope on his final day,” Cappabianca said.
She and her classmate, Christine Pienoski, shed tears as Pope Benedict shared his message and blessed those in the crowd. Both Cappabianca and Pienoski, 20, of Sheffield Lake, are history/museum studies majors.
“I got video of him coming out on the balcony and speaking because I knew it was something I would always want to remember,” Pienoski said. “I was in awe and very humbled. I was grateful and blessed to be here. The experience made it seem so real — not like being at home watching it on TV. There was so much love and spiritual energy.”
Michael Cinson, Walsh’s director of student life in Italy, said the students in the eight-week global learning program are fortunate to be in Italy during this historic time in the Roman Catholic Church. He recalled being in his final year of completing his undergraduate degree in education at Walsh when Pope Benedict was elected.
“Being here to witness the conclave and the election of a new pope is monumental. I never thought in 2005 that I would be here in the middle of all this, witnessing history,” said Cinson, a Malvern native. “This is something that this year’s group of global learning students will never forget. They got a blessing from Pope Benedict, and they will get a blessing from the new pope.”
Cinson, Pienoski and Cappabianca all agree it would be nice to see a non-European pope elected to give the Catholic Church a more global perspective.
“It would be very exciting to see a pope from a developing country,” said Cinson, 30. “We pray that the cardinals will elect someone who is going to love the church.”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or email@example.com.