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Seminarian reflects on the final days of Benedict XVI Print
Guest column
Written by Scott Emerson, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013 -- 12:00 AM
Scott Emerson, a seminarian for the Diocese of Madison, studying in Rome, is shown at Pope Benedict XVI’s final Sunday Angelus on Sunday, Feb. 24. (Contributed photo) To view more of Emerson's photos click here.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of reflections on recent events happening at the Vatican by Diocese of Madison seminarians studying in Rome.

As a seminarian for the Diocese of Madison, studying in Rome, the unexpected news of the pope’s resignation has dramatically impacted the life of the seminary and the spiritual life of each seminarian as we pray for His Holiness Benedict XVI, Roman pontiff emeritus, and the cardinals as they prepare to enter conclave.

From the moment we heard the announcement, the North American College seminarians were in abuzz talking about the Holy Father’s decision while trying to concentrate on studying and completing final exams which we were in the midst of taking.

In past years, the seminarians’ Lenten journey always began with an early morning pilgrimage atop the Aventine Hill to Santa Sabina for Ash Wednesday Mass.

With the Holy Father’s announcement, the Lenten journey would begin at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Like all papal liturgies, the Basilica was filled, but this was to be the last papal liturgy of Benedict XVI’s pontificate.

As expressed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone before the close of the Mass to the Holy Father, “our hearts are veiled in sorrow” but “that it is the deep love you feel for God and for the Church that has urged you to make this act.”

He further continued to speak the words we all wished to express, “with deep affection, feeling and admiration: thank you.”

The Basilica erupted with a standing ovation continuing for several minutes and carrying with it many tears and emotions.

This was the first opportunity, we, as his flock, were able to show our gratitude for his courageous service, for his unwavering commitment to the Truth, and for his untiring zeal for spreading the Gospel.

Ash Wednesday was the first of many “lasts” that were going to occur over the coming weeks for Pope Benedict XVI and to all Catholics who have seen him as a spiritual father over these past eight years.

The last public Mass, the last Sunday Angelus, the last General Audience, and the last time, as Peter, he would bestow his apostolic blessing.

Each time carried with it a historical element which cannot be completely understood and only in hindsight will we be able to comprehend these eventful days.

The following two and a half weeks continued with a swirl of emotion from sorrow to gratitude that has encompassed Benedict XVI’s resignation.

The crowning moment was to see the Holy Father fly over the Pontifical North American College, in almost a salute, as American cardinals, priests, and seminarians waved our farewells with flags flying as the helicopter flew off into the sunset to Castel Gandolfo.

Knowing that His Holiness, Benedict XVI, would no longer be the pope in a few passing hours, we walked away with trust in the Lord that He will lead His Church.

In the words of Pope Benedict during his final general audience, “God guides His Church, maintains her always, and especially in difficult times.”

In this Year of Faith, let us strengthen our faith in God and the election of a new Holy Father, head of Christ’s Church and Successor of Peter. For we will go forward with firm trust in the Lord. Mary, Mother of the Church, Pray for Us!”

Scott Emerson is a second year theologian studying at the North American College in Rome.