- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

ROME — Twenty-nine star-struck students from Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., were among the thousands of people who crowded into St. Peter’s Square early last night to see the new pope.

When the announcement came, the students erupted with shouts of “Oh, thank you, Jesus,” and “Benedetto,” the Italian name for Pope Benedict XVI.

Some of the Italians in the crowd were noticeably shocked. “What’s happening?” one woman asked. “Is the whole world going right wing?”

But for the Christendom students, who are spending part of their junior year in the Eternal City, the selection of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the 265th pope was a supreme validation for the conservative Catholicism represented by the school — and a small but growing number of Catholic colleges across the country.

As the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s agency for enforcing church doctrine, the new pope is much beloved by church conservatives who feel the Catholic Church, especially its American component, needs firmer leadership from the top.

“Cardinal Ratzinger knows the mind of the pope and will continue the legacy,” said Ben Akers, an apologetics professor for the college. Motioning to the students, he said, “This is better than any classroom experience. This is lived theology.”

Mother Mary Taylor, a nun who teaches Italian to Christendom students and who allowed her Italian class to stake out a spot on the gray cobblestones of St. Peter’s Square late yesterday afternoon, characterized the papal election bluntly: “We won.”

The crowd in St. Peter’s Square began to multiply shortly after 5 p.m., about the time another black or white smoke signal was expected out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, signifying either a failed vote or a new pope.

Suddenly, a shriek arose from the crowd. The chimney was emanating smoke, but the color appeared gray.

“It’s white. It’s white,” one of the students shouted.

“Oh, no one knows,” another countered.

“Where are the bells?” a third person asked, referring to the ringing of the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica to signify the election of a new pope.

But Roman police already were setting up barriers for the people who were pouring into the square rapidly. Flags and banners of all types started to wave wildly. Many of those in the square were dressed in nuns’ and priests’ habits, including Harold Reeves, a seminarian from St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Washington who is studying at the North American College in Rome.

“I couldn’t convince the cardinal to text-message me,” he said jokingly, referring to Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, one of 115 cardinals sequestered in the Sistine Chapel for the election.

Students hoisted a navy blue Christendom College banner they had brought for the occasion.

Christopher Wells, a Christendom alumnus studying in Rome, was confident the new pope either would be Cardinal Ratzinger or Milan Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.

“It’s got to be a front-runner to be decided this soon,” Mr. Wells said. Whereas Pope John Paul II was decided on the eighth ballot, the new pope was chosen in just four ballots.

The huge bells atop St. Peter’s Basilica began ringing, and the crowd went wild with applause and shouts. The Christendom students broke into the hymn “Salve Regina.” As the crowd grew, they followed with “Te Deum” and “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.”

When Cardinal Ratzinger was announced as Pope Benedict XVI, a group of Ukrainian and Italian bystanders next to the Virginia students went silent. But the Christendom students’ shout of “Benedetto” was picked up by the rest of the crowd.

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