By Tom Campbell
Purdue students (left to right) Lori Beeker, Jennifer Clouse, Kelly Beeker and Valerie Scott captured their historic moment at St. Peter’s Square after seeing Pope Francis on March 13.
As far as life-changing events go, Purdue freshman Jennifer Clouse puts being in Vatican City for the introduction of Pope Francis pretty high on her list.
“I’d say it’s right up there,” said the native of Hope, Ind. When pushed, the animal agribusiness and agricultural economics major and non-Catholic admits it might not quite be at the top of her list.
“My mom said I don’t have to be a Catholic to understand the significance of being a part of history. It was amazing to witness something like that, something that doesn’t happen all that often.”
That said, standing on the steps of St. Peter’s Square and seeing Pope Francis make his first appearance ranks no higher than fourth on Clouse’s list of personal accomplishments.
“Showing the Grand Champion Dairy Steer at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair would be the only thing that tops this,” she said. Clouse did that three consecutive years (2010–12) before coming to Purdue.
Clouse and 24 other Purdue students recently returned from a weeklong Agriculture in Italy (AGR 49300) course over spring break. She had been saving for the trip for six months. The group left Chicago March 8 and returned from Rome March 16. Each student paid $2,500 to cover transportation and some meals, received one credit hour and collected memories and experiences that will last a lifetime.
Mario Ferruzzi (left) has made seven tours of his homeland as an instructor, tour guide and chaperone for various Purdue student groups. This was Andrea Liceaga’s first trip to Italy.
Under the guidance of professor Mario Ferruzzi and assistant professor Andrea Liceaga, the student group spent two days in Parma, two more in Florence, then three in Rome touring a blend of agricultural and cultural facilities. It was Liceaga’s first trip to Italy.
“It was great to be able to go with someone who knows the language, knows the country and knows the culture,” Liceaga said of Ferruzzi, who was making his seventh trip to Italy with students.
While each trip has its special moments, the historic significance of the most recent trip dwarfs all others.
The group was part of a crowd of 300,000 people crammed into St. Peter’s Square and overflowing into the streets of Vatican City, all to get a glimpse of Pope Francis as he emerged onto the balcony of the adjacent basilica on March 13.
“It was the biggest crowd I have ever seen,” said Clouse, straining along with her travel mates to get a glimpse of the pope through the colonnades that ring the square.
“It was a surreal experience for most of us,” Ferruzzi said. “We didn’t have a front-row seat, but we did pretty well to get as close as we did.”
Officials estimated the crowd inside and outside St. Peter’s Square at upwards of 300,000 people, including 27 members of a contingent representing Purdue Agriculture.
The group was scheduled to tour the Sistine Chapel within the Vatican walls, but plans were scrapped when the cardinals descended on the Vatican to elect a new leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
“We always advise students to be flexible when traveling abroad,” said Linda Vallade, program leader for Agriculture Study Abroad at Purdue. But little did the students know that being flexible made them witnesses to history.
“We were coming down to dinner in our hotel in Rome and the television sets were on, showing the white smoke that announces a new pope,” Clouse said. “Then it got crazy. The nuns who run the hotel (Villa Monte Mario) started celebrating by banging pots and pans together.”
The streets of Rome were clogged with pedestrians running toward St. Peter’s Square to get the first glimpse of Pope Francis on March 13.
The nuns, experts at such things, told the group there was a 50-minute window between the sighting of the white smoke and the emerging of the pope from the basilica.
“We’re going, right?” Liceaga asked Ferruzzi, who took a quick poll of the students who had assembled for dinner in the hotel dining room.
“How many people want to see the pope?” Ferruzzi asked. Immediately, 25 hands shot up into the air. Ferruzzi scrambled to find 27 bus passes while the group started running to the nearest bus stop for the 2.2-mile ride to St. Peter’s Square.
Running through the streets of Rome toward the St. Peter's Square, Andrea Liceaga held her raincoat aloft so the Purdue contingent would have a target to follow.
“We were crammed like sardines on the bus,” said Liceaga. “Then we just started running through the streets to get to the square.” Liceaga held her yellow raincoat aloft as a target for the students to follow.
Clouse said running through the streets of Rome felt like the television show “The Amazing Race.”
“I felt like I was carrying the Olympic torch,” Liceaga said. And right there, amid 300,000 people on the darkened streets of Rome, she witnessed what might be a little miracle of their own.
“It was amazing,” she said. “Not one single person got lost.”