A Pontifical North American College Seminarian’s Account of the Passing of John Paul II

The View from “Ground Zero”

By Joe Previtali
April 2005

I just got back from spending a couple hours with some of the pilgrims waiting in line to see the Pope. The line of people waiting to see the Pope is quite tremendous, as I am sure you can see on television.

Two million Poles are expected to come to Rome, and some of them have begun to arrive today.

The sight on “ground zero” is really quite dramatic. There are two lines, one beginning across the Tiber River and the other beginning near the wall of Vatican City [editor’s note: this runs along the way to the Vatican Museums]. If you have been to Rome before, you know that those two sites are somewhat far from each other. The two lines meet on the Via della Conciliazione, where they feed into the one line that you see on television. The Via della Conciliazione is a long, wide strip, leading up directing to St. Peter’s Basilica.

In the two hours that I was down there, the line moved about 50 yards (we kept track of one lady in order to get an idea). The conditions are less than ideal. The people are packed in between metal parade fences.

There is a lot of water, but there have been people passing out from exhaustion or heat. As they make their way, there are some areas that are shaded, but others that are right under the sun. Morale heightens when they reach the Via della Conciliazione because they can then see St. Peter’s. But morale is pretty low before that. We took it as our task to help heighten morale, as well as to pass out water.

Two friends and I passed out 1,000 miraculous medals and 150 rosaries in about 20 minutes. Tomorrow, we hope to “mobilize” over 50 NACers to do more of the same. We were also passing out pamphlets on the priesthood and the Sacrament of Penance to those who could read English. There were other NACers down there who were passing out water, or just talking to the people, keeping their morale up and encouraging them. The people are interested in any giveaways or conversations – anything to pass the time. So they are ripe for evangelization.

However, they aren’t the only ones being evangelized. The fact that these people felt it was worthwhile to come from all over the world to pay their respects to Pope John Paul II is a great example of how the sensus fidei intuitively understands the important things in life. When the faithful heard that the Pope had died, there was no question about it: they were coming to Rome to pay their respects and to pray for him. Their witness of faith in enduring such conditions, waiting in line for 10-15 hours to see the mortal remains of Pope John Paul II, is extremely powerful and has made a large impression on us seminarians.

We are encouraged and energized by their witness. There is a sentiment among us that we must be there with them, walking with them and encouraging them along their slow via crucis from the beginning of the line to the doors of St. Peter’s. Some guys have spent the whole day out there yesterday and today. In the past couple days, everyone has realized that what is happening in St. Peter’s Basilica, Square, and surroundings is very special. We have all resolved to take as much of it in as possible, and to let it bear fruit in our own lives as Christians and seminarians.

There is much added excitement at the College, as well. It serves as the home base for the American media. EWTN has constructed a temporary studio on our roof for their coverage of the funeral and the conclave.

Seminarians are giving interviews to television, radio, and newspaper reporters from around the world. Today, I spoke with a television reporter for the FOX affiliate in Minneapolis, a newspaper reporter from Toronto, and a radio reporter for the BBC-Ireland. Admittedly, it is a bit difficult to focus on studies this week, but, to balance that, it is easier to pray.

It’s a great time to be in Rome. It’s a great time to be Catholic. It’s a great time to be alive.

Joe Previtali is a seminarian at the North American College (NAC) in Rome. (CCG note: Seminarians studying at NAC are considered the best of the best.) UPDATE: Father Joe Previtali was ordained in 2009 and is a priest in a parish in San Francisco.