Italy trip includes VIP seating with Pope Francis

With Pope Francis only a few feet away, 19 students and four staff from Archbishop Williams High School, cheered loudly and clearly when their presence as “Pilgrims… from Archbishop Williams High School, Braintree, Mass.,” was announced by a cardinal to a throng of thousands of the faithful gathered for a Papal audience at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.

“It was the best experience and the true highlight of the trip,” said Beverly Ekstrom, the Foreign Language Department Chair who led the nine day April vacation tour to Italy. “I don’t think the kids will ever forget it.”

Two students in particular, juniors Sarah Goslin and Kelsey Harrington had the best seats of the whole group, sitting in the front row.

“Everyone was clapping and cheering so much,” said Harrington. “We were sitting in the rain, but it was worth it,” she said.  Goslin was no less impressed. “It was really cool to see someone that so many people admire.”

The group had arrived at St. Peter’s Square at 8 a.m., two full hours before an audience. “Every time we reached the next check point manned by the Pope’s Swiss Guards, they would tell us to keep going up,” said Ekstrom. “So we went up, and up, and up to our special seating area.” The VIP tickets, she said were arranged by Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s office.

Ekstrom and the group were moved by how the Pope took the time to shake the hands of all of the disabled persons who were gathered together in a special section.  The whole experience was so exciting and inspiring, she said, that her group stayed until the Pope was finished, which by then, was after noon.

The trip included tours of Rome, Venice, and Tuscany.