VATICAN CITY -- Scores of American seminarians waved, cheered and flew the Stars and Stripes on the roof of the North American College as the helicopter of Pope Benedict XVI flew over them on his final journey as supreme pontiff.
Church bells pealed throughout Rome on the historic occasion, marking the first abdication of a pope in six centuries. At 5 p.m., a golden dusk was setting in on St. Peter's Basilica, far below the seminary atop Rome's Janiculum Hill.
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, who watched with the Pittsburgh seminarians he had come to Rome to visit, had tears in his eyes.
"It gives me a lump in the throat to hear all the bells ringing and all the people cheering. What a great affirmation of a great leader," he said.
The seminarians had waited eagerly with flags and cameras, knowing that the school was on the normal flight path to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence.
His Holiness Benedict XVI, pontiff emeritus, will stay there until a monastic residence is prepared in the Vatican. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, a former rector of the North American College who is often mentioned as a papal contender, joined the students on the rooftop.
They were at first disappointed when the white papal helicopter veered away from the school. But they began to cheer and wave as it circled back, heading directly for them. It flew low enough that they were certain that Pope Benedict could see them.
Some held a large sign that read: "We'll miss you."
"He's had such an important role as our shepherd. It's a blessing to be here and uphold him in prayer," said Tom Schluep, a third-year student from Pittsburgh. "He will be able to do so many good things in prayer now for the church."
The Rev. Michael Sedor, a Pittsburgh priest finishing his studies in Rome, called it "a happy goodbye" compared to the sadness of the death of Pope John Paul II.
"There's happiness that Pope Benedict will get to do what he always wanted to do, go off and pray. I'm happy the burden has been lifted from him," he said.
Adam Potter, a seminarian from St. Bernard in Mt. Lebanon, said he felt "utter respect for a man who has given everything he has for the church."
Michael Conway, a seminarian from St. Norbert in Overbrook, who considered Pope Benedict XVI part of his inspiration to pursue priesthood, said the promise of the pontiff emeritus to pray for the church meant that their relationship would live on.
Referring to his classmates on the roof he said, "He is definitely going to be praying for us because there is no way he missed seeing us. ... We aren't losing him. We still have him."mobilehome - nation - neigh_city
First Published March 1, 2013 5:00 AM