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UGA student sees history in Vatican City

POSTED: March 15, 2013 12:42 a.m.
/For The Times

Eliza Paris, left, a Gainesville resident and University of Georgia student studying abroad this semester, and Sarah Singer, a fellow student from Dallas, stand in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday when Pope Francis I was introduced in Vatican City. The women's spring break trip to Rome coincided with the announcement of the new pope.

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A Gainesville resident was in the right place at the right time Wednesday in Rome for a moment of historic and cultural significance — white smoke from the Sistine Chapel indicating a new pope.

“There were so many emotions in the square. People were crying, Argentine flags were everywhere, everyone was so emotional,” Eliza Paris said. “You could just tell in that moment that people felt very connected to him.”

Paris, a University of Georgia junior studying in Italy this semester, was in St. Peter’s Square when Pope Francis was introduced.

“We went last night before dinner to see the black smoke, because we didn’t think the new pope would be announced yet,” she said.

Paris and her traveling companions were staying three subway stops from the chapel, she said. The 12 girls made an early dinner reservation near St. Peter’s Square to allow time to witness what they thought would be black smoke to indicate a pope had not been chosen.

“When we got there, the smoke was pretty gray, and we weren’t sure what it meant. Then it was definitely coming out white, and everyone started sprinting to the square,” she said.

They took off as well, making it to the center of the crowd.

“It was pouring rain, and we waited. We still didn’t know what was going on and we were all standing around waiting — 12 girls — and no one around us spoke any English. We were pretending like we knew what was going on,” Paris said.

Eventually they encountered an English-speaking Italian girl, who translated as the events transpired, she said.

“One of the cardinals came out and said in Latin, ‘We have a pope,’ and in about 20 minutes the pope came out, and he picked his pope name,” she said.

Pope Francis, an Argentine from Buenos Aires, is the first non-European pope in centuries.

Paris grew up attending First Methodist in Gainesville, but knew of the Roman Catholic traditions through her studies.

“We had just studied so much about Rome and the Vatican City, so we understood the process,” she said.

But the timing of the trip to Rome had coincidentally corresponded with the conclave.

“When we got the original itinerary in October, the spring break was planned. The first three weeks of the program (were) in Verona, and that’s when they announced the pope was stepping down,” she said. “At that point we thought it’d be really cool if we could be there when everything was going on, but never thought it would be this close.”

The historic occasion did deter one cultural activity.

“We had reservations to go to the Sistine Chapel today, but it was closed because the cardinals were there voting,” she said.

Paris’ study abroad program concludes on April 11, after which she’ll tour more of Europe with her mom.

The weight of the experience might make the reverse-culture shock all the more stark, she said.

“Coming back to Georgia is not something I’m ready to think about yet,” she said. “It’s just amazing to feel like you’re a part of it and not just a tourist.”


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