Kansans gather in St. Peter’s Square for pope’s final general audience
by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The same week heavy snow canceled classes in northeast Kansas, some schools shut down for a while in Rome — but for a far different reason.
At the pontifical universities, where archdiocesan seminarians Agustin Martinez and Luke Doyle study theology, morning classes were called off so students could attend Pope Benedict XVI’s final general audience on Feb. 27.
Martinez and Doyle, both in their first year of theology, joined tens of thousands of others in paying their respects to the pope who would step down the following day.
“This was a highly emotional event,” said Martinez. “The audience was full of people showing their affection to Pope Benedict with their songs, signs, shouts and tears.”
Father Vince Huber, AVI, whose family belongs to Church of the Nativity in Leawood, joined some of his brothers from the Apostles of the Interior Life for the audience.
They arrived early, knowing St. Peter’s Square would fill up fast.
They sat near the obelisk, a major landmark in the middle of St. Peter’s Square, and Father Vince said not only was the square full, but the crowd spilled into the street beyond it.
Pope Benedict gave a reflection that strayed from his usual catechesis.
“It seemed like a father saying goodbye to his children,” said Father Vince. “It was very moving. It was actually a very humble speech. He was just saying how I’m not leaving you; I’ve always considered you my brothers and sisters in Christ and also my daughters and sons. I’m not leaving you now; I’m just doing what I think is best for the church and stepping down.”
He told the audience he had come to this decision after much time in prayer, discerning God’s will.
Like many others at the event, the Apostles of the Interior Life seized the last opportunity to have items blessed by Pope Benedict XVI and held out a few rosaries to be blessed.
Father Vince will remember this pope as a fatherly man, and his simplicity and genuine kindness will always stand out.
Pope Benedict seemed to be at peace, despite his monumental decision, said Doyle.
The 85-year-old pope first spoke to the audience in Italian, but then went on to address them in a total of 11 languages, including German, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Romanian and Arabic — a language Doyle noted Pope Benedict started to study at age 83.
As the crowd broke into applause, repeatedly interrupting his words, Pope Benedict “always welcomed our signs of affection with a warm ‘grazie,’” said Martinez.
Both seminarians were touched by some of the pope’s parting words, in which he told the audience: “God guides his church, maintains her always, and especially in difficult times. Let us never lose this vision of faith, which is the only true vision of the way of the church and the world. In our heart, in the heart of each of you, let there be always the joyous certainty that the Lord is near, that he does not abandon us, that he is near to us and that he surrounds us with his love.”
Martinez and Doyle also attended other events — including his last Angelus — during the final days of Pope Benedict’s papacy.
Both went to the rooftop of the Pontifical North American College on Feb. 28 — his official last day — to wave goodbye as his helicopter flew over, destined for his temporary residence outside Rome in Castel Gandolfo.
“We had several American and Vatican flags, along with many signs and banners to send the pope off,” said Doyle. “He took off in his helicopter, was given a flyover of the Vatican, and flew directly over us!”