VATICAN CITY -- While bells pealed across Rome, scores of American seminarians stood on the walled roof of the North American College, waving farewell and flying American flags as the helicopter of Pope Benedict XVI passed overhead on his way to become the first retired pontiff in 600 years.
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, who was with his Rome seminarians, 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 great a great affirmation of a great leader," he said.
The seminarians had waited eagerly on the rooftop, and were at first disappointed when the white papal helicopter veered away from their perch high atop the Janiculum Hill, overlooking St. Peter's Basilica. Then it circled back around and they began to cheer as it headed directly for them, low enough that they were certain that Pope Benedict, in his final hours before his abdication took effect, could see them.
Some held a large sign up that said "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 originally from St. Mary Assumption parish in Glenshaw.
"He will be able to do so many good things in prayer now 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 that the promise of the pontiff emeritus to pray for the church meant that their relationship would live on.
Referring to the seminarians 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."
Ann Rodgers: email@example.com or 412-263-1416. First Published February 28, 2013 7:45 PM