Students make trip to see Pope Francis


Emma Kinghorn

Unloading the car, strapping on our waterproof fanny packs, pulling on neon uniforms, and making final preparations for battle, the atmosphere was electric. Strategic weaving, power-walking, even a light jog became necessary at some points. Everyone knew her mission, they knew the end point; front row for the Papal parade. It’s 3:10 a.m. Do you want sleep, or do you want to see the Pope?

Conserving heat and energy, the troops had to create a nest of two blankets, gather their cuddle buddies,  and mange their hunger with only a few nutri-grain bars, and little water for nourishment. The conditions were extreme, a chilling cold, a tad damp and crowded. Survival was key. It was 3:20 a.m., and they had to remember that it was a marathon, not a sprint, to those fateful moments where His Holiness is rolling in between two body guards, for the perfect camera op. The true question is, with eight hours to go, can you trust those around you to hold your ground from the surrounding, front-row hungry animals behind you, if you dose off? When the temperature is 59 degrees, which do you choose: body heat, or the Pope?

Taking shifts to catch a vital few moments of sleep, those on guard had to watch the perimeter, fortify the edges, and re-smooth the corners of each blanket, not to give up any precious, valuable, front-row inch. The changing of the guard was important; one must be careful to not allow any frosty air when substituting cuddle buddies; it would infect the entire camp. Those surrounding you start up conversations, trying to pass time, but you must remain on your guard, because letting an outsider take an inch was taking an inch from each of your sister warriors. Six hours to go. Do you want to make friends, or see the Pope?

With the sun rising, creeping over the monument, people, oh wait, that’s competitors, pack themselves in around you. Looking up at the Washington monument, you think of the freedom it symbolizes, and you can’t help but think about the current freedom you don’t have – movement, especially to the bathrooms. After hydrating for strength, the troopers are faced with a decision, face the possibility of losing precious inches of the fort, or to relieve the much-stressed bladders. When the port-a-potties are 60 yards away, a critical decision stands in front of you. Do you want to go pee, or see the Pope of the Holy See?

If you think that this has been intense so far, it was child’s play compared to the competitive edge that everyone donned as soon as the President appears on the screen. Still almost an hour away, everyone gripped the edge of their concrete. A few brave, well-conditioned souls took their positions standing on the fence. When the Pope appears on the screen, the animals around us roar, awakening the sleeping warriors from their slumber. Though the group has gained a few allies, they are still careful to give up ground, you know what they say; keep your friends close, your enemies closer. As more neighboring armies rise to the fence, and police line the streets, the troops had to synchronize their clocks/phones. With about an hour until the scheduled departure, do you want to sit, or do you want to see the Pope?

After minutes of hurried, cramped strategizing, Lt. O’Brien makes the call – stand we will, but we will do so carefully. One by one, the sisters rise, careful to place their feet as far back as possible, and shuffle sideways. This extra space existed for a luscious, spacious, .0002 second paradise, as the selfie-hungry animals rush to fill every millimeter of vacated space. With little to focus on besides the DCPD, or the mass amount of zookeepers lining the streets, each soldier begins the mental battle: standing in the now sweltering heat, in our long-sleeved uniforms, and less personal space than one ever thought possible, you think, do you want to smell sweet and sweatless, or see the Pope?
The Pope-mobile is on the horizon; the battlefield heats up. Pushing, shoving, standing, sweating, the soldiers are facing much adversity. Our allies have turned, wanting front row spots, and claiming illness. Sure, I bet that’s really puke in the bag, or did you sneak a box of soup in under your shirt for this very reason? Conveniently people move out of the way for you, oh look! There’s the front row! But leave in an ambulance? No way. See? She’s cunning; she’s in it for the biscuit, the papal biscuit. Do you want your necessary medical attention, or do you want to see the Pope?

CODE RED, LADIES. CODE RED. STAND AT ATTENTION. THE POPE IS ON THE STREET. THE POPEMOBILE IS IN SIGHT. It all has led up to this, the final showdown, cameras at the ready, turned on, planned out. Multiple cameras – there is no shame. What’s that on my back? Oh sure lady, I can give you a piggyback ride….. AFTER I see the Pope. To selfie or not to selfie? Now the ultimate question, do you want the perfect picture, or do you want to see the Pope?

At 11:37 a.m., the mission was deemed a success, when the “papal selfie” was taken, Papa Francisco is waving, glad to be part of such an important success. After eight grueling hours, the soldiers can relax, or so they thought.

A vision of success, the troops are famous, and are bombarded for photos, interviews, the paparazzi were animals themselves. But after the fight for front row, this is nothing, like taking candy from a famous baby. Oh what’s that? One more picture of us? Oh sure.

For the next time his Holiness visits the Nation’s Capital,  think of our heroic journey, and ask yourself: do you want to watch on TV like everyone else from the comfort of your own home, or do you want to actually see the pope. . .for eight seconds?

Lt. O'Brien, and Lt. Kinghorn take their nap shift on the concrete.
Lt. O’Brien, and Lt. Kinghorn take their nap shift on the concrete.
The treasured "papal selfie" captured at 11:37 AM.
The treasured “papal selfie” captured at 11:37 AM.
Security lines the streets, hours before the parade begins.
Security lines the streets, hours before the parade begins.

Here is a video of the group seeing the Pope.