STEUBENVILLE -A 24-year-old seminarian from the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville was among the hundreds of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square Wednesday night to witness Pope Francis make his first public appearance.
"I was blessed to be in the square that night to see Pope Francis. It was an incredibly beautiful and prayerful experience that culminated in a great joy for the whole church," shared Ed Maxfield in an e-mail from Rome.
Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope on the fifth round of voting Wednesday evening in Rome by the Conclave charged with selecting the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.
WITNESS TO CHURCH HISTORY — Edward Maxfield, a seminarian from the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, stands in front of the Vatican in Rome where he is studying and preparing for the priesthood. Maxfield was in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Benedict XVI’s last public audience and for the introduction of Pope Francis last week. -- Contributed
Approximately one hour later the new pontiff emerged to shyly greet a massive crowd and asked for their prayers for himself.
"The most powerful part of the evening was when Pope Francis asked a half million people in St. Peter's Square to be silent and pray to God, for Him to bless His new pope. Just like that a half million people bowed their heads and prayed in silence, you really could have heard a pin drop. That was probably the most incredible moment of the night. I am just so blessed to have been there and so excited to have seen the joy of the crowd at the election and introduction of the new Pontiff," added Maxfield.
Maxfield was assigned by former Bishop Daniel Conlon of the Steubenville Diocese to study for the priesthood at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
"I was sent here in 2010 by Bishop Conlon to do my theological studies in preparation for priesthood. The North American College really is simply America's seminary in Rome. The other students here are from dioceses around the USA and we were all assigned by our bishops to do our theological studies in Rome. This is my third year here and I will be ordained to the diaconate in Steubenville this week at Holy Name Cathedral.
"I did not have the pleasure of meeting Pope Benedict XVI, but I have been awfully close to him a few times. I served Vespers on Dec. 31, 2012, for him, so I was very near to him indeed. I have also been a frequent attendant at his Sunday Angelus and his audiences because the college is just 10 minutes from the Vatican.
"Also, as a result of doing theological studies during his pontificate, I have read a lot of his work. So, even though I have never met him personally, I feel like I know him through these other means. I am a very big fan of Pope Benedict and think that he is a kind, brilliant man, who always has the best interests of the church at heart," noted Maxfield.
"Everyone was a little shocked at the resignation of Pope Benedict but very supportive. Everyone was also very supportive of the cardinals as they arrive here and very excited to meet and great our new pope," said Maxfield.
He said the seminaries were not sure how to react to the pope's resignation in February.
"During the last conclave, in 2005, it had been so long since a conclave that no one was really sure how to act or respond to it. The universities around the city asked then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals, if they should cancel class for the conclave. His response was that students of a university should study, conclave or no conclave," declared Maxfield.
"As a result, both then and now, students at the Roman universities, myself included, occupied our mornings by going to class. Once the conclave started I was hopeful of being in St. Peter's Square at the times when they usually burn the ballots. And I was able to make it to St. Peter's Square in time for the introduction of Pope Francis," explained Maxfield.
While living at the North American College, I do my theological studies across the city, at Pontifical Gregorian University, the Jesuit run university here in Rome," Maxfield said.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)