Coronavirus cancels high schools’ trips to Rome

A priest celebrates Mass outside a Rome church March 8 after Italy’s bishops ordered Masses not be held inside in order to contain the coronavirus outbreak. CNS PHOTO/REMO CASILLI, REUTERS

by Moira Cullings
moira.cullings@theleaven.org

OVERLAND PARK — Anna Ketelle has been eagerly anticipating the St. Thomas Aquinas High School senior spring break trip to Rome since her sister went in 2014.

“I was most looking forward to visiting the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica and seeing the Vatican,” she said.

“But, also, [I was looking forward to] just getting to go with my classmates and my teachers and growing in community that way,” she continued.

Unfortunately, Ketelle won’t be going to Rome this month, and neither will any of her classmates.

The trip was canceled at the beginning of March after a difficult decision, but one that was agreed upon by all involved, due to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“Ultimately, as things have escalated in Italy, it became apparent to the administration and chaperones that it wasn’t the safest decision for our students to go,” said Sarah Cretors, trip coordinator and campus minister at Aquinas.

“The decision became easier to make,” she said, as more information came out of Italy. 

The Aquinas decision was also made with the larger Kansas City community in mind, said Cretors, who explained the students could potentially be quarantined upon their return home or give others the virus without knowing it.

Although the 26 seniors signed up to go on the trip were disappointed, Cretors said their reaction was one of maturity.

“I think it’d be easy for them to get frustrated and take it out on me or whoever’s communicating the information,” she said. “But they’ve just been really understanding, and I think they know it’s kind of out of our control.”

What helped Ketelle deal with the disappointment was a prayer said by Aquinas chaplain Father Dan Weger: “Lord, if it’s your will, let us go.”

“Hearing that prayer gave us reassurance that everything’s part of a greater plan,” said Ketelle. “Right now, I don’t get to go. But I know that in the future I might get another opportunity.

“Having that has brought a lot of peace to the whole situation.”

Ketelle said she and her classmates have hopes to visit Rome together this summer, but definitely plan on going out for Italian food at some point during their spring break.

Father Anthony Saiki, who is currently studying canon law in Rome, was also looking forward to seeing the group from Aquinas, as well as a group from St. James Academy in Lenexa, who also canceled its class trip to Rome.

“But that was a very prudent decision,” he said. “Rome is very quiet. It feels like a ghost town.

“The regional quarantines in the north and the suspension of Masses countrywide certainly aren’t helping to calm a very nervous situation.”

On March 9, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann spoke with Father Saiki and suggested he return home. Father Saiki plans to come back to Kansas City and stay until after Easter.

At press time, Italy was experiencing the largest coronavirus outbreak outside Asia. As of March 10, more than 9,100 people in Italy had tested positive for the virus and nearly 500 had died.

On March 9, the Italian prime minister had extended the lockdown to the entire country, which included travel restrictions, school and university closings, and canceled sporting events.

The severity of the situation makes the school trip cancellation even more understandable for Ketelle and her classmates.

“Obviously, we’re upset,” she said, “but we know that our safety is the number one priority.”

“We are more worried about the people who are there right now,” she added. “We’re worried for everyone who’s affected.”

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