Once in a Lifetime Experiences

Once in a Lifetime Experiences

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is: my semester is already over halfway over, and I’m leaving Rome in less than a month! The good news is: I get to spend over three more weeks in Rome, which is a longer time span than most people spend here in their entire lives. In my time here I have been blessed with many experiences that I am eternally grateful for, including meeting Pope Francis!

Before I left to study abroad I set some goals for myself to achieve throughout the semester. I thought this would be a fun way to challenge myself to step outside my comfort zone and embrace the abroad experience, and I never imagined the ways in which these things would play out! One of these goals was to “Take a selfie with Pope Francis.” Note that I did not indicate whether or not the Holy Father would be aware of this happening, and I never promised how close to him I would be in the picture. When I decided to put this on my to-do list I thought it would be funny to see how or if I could make it happen. Since then, however, I have had to question if this was a goal I would follow through with. If the purpose of a goal is to be achieved, what happens if it is surpassed? I don’t think I need to take that selfie anymore, because I got something even better when I got pictures capturing one of the highlight-moments of my life: shaking hands with the Pope.

If you didn’t believe me before - believe me now. I am one very blessed young woman. I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Pontifical Academy for Life’s General Assembly of Members 2015. This year their annual conference was on “Assisting the Elderly and Palliative Care”, and professionals from all over the world gathered to discuss these important matters together at the Vatican. I was one of six students from my abroad program who volunteered at this conference. I enjoyed it immensely and the rewards were ten-fold! As a Biology Major, I have a strong personal interest in Bioethics, which I credit to many experiences I have had in the past. I know firsthand how special and important caring for the elderly is, as my grandpa lived with my family for seven years when I was growing up. During this past semester at Ave Maria University, I started volunteering at a nursing home in Naples, FL, which added to my heart for these “old souls.” It was a true privilege to be involved in this assembly.

As part of the conference, Pope Francis addressed the Members of the Academy in a private audience that I was allowed to attend. After he spoke he began shaking hands with the attendees, which is when I had the opportunity to meet him myself! 

The exchange only lasted a couple of seconds, but it was enough to make memory that I expect will last for years and years It was truly incredible getting to be so close to a man who is dear to not only myself, but also to millions of others around the world. Never in my life would I anticipate having an opportunity like this, but I am so thankful that it happened. I don’t always understand how or why God has blessed me as much as He has, but I choose to smile, absorb it and say “thank you.”

Whenever anyone asks me how I am doing and how things have been going here in Europe, I tell them I have been jumping from one once in a lifetime experience to the next, and it’s true. After the Pontifical Academy for Life Conference, the students from my Rome Program who had volunteered with me hopped on a train and met up with the rest of our group for a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy! There we learned about the lives of Saints Claire and Francis of Assisi as we journeyed to different churches and important landmarks in their hometown. 

I cannot imagine a better setup: in the same weekend I went from being with Pope Francis to being in the city of Saint Francis! In Assisi, I hiked to the hermitage of the Franciscans, where Saint Francis would go to pray in the mountains. The views along the way were breath taking, and the entire journey was beautiful, despite being an intense climb. Even though the hike gave me lots of time to think, I’m still trying to take everything that’s happened to me in.

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Life never slows down, so I am learning to match its pace day by day. Now that the semester is winding down, I realize how special each and every day is and how fortunate I am to spend three months abroad. Before I spend too much time thinking about this though, I have to jump back on the roller coaster of life. Today I take off for Poland, where I’ll be spending my Spring Break. Needless to say, I have no doubt that the next 4 weeks will be full of adventure and memory making. Now it’s time to jump in and enjoy!