Marymount Universitys Sarah Hall thought a perfect next step after becoming Catholic would be a pilgrimage to Rome, a trip she took May 16-24 with 21 others through the schools Campus Ministry. Hall wanted insight into her faith and the history of the church.
The biggest surprise was how much I learned and am still learning from the trip, said the senior elementary education major from Mechanicsville. Im still reflecting and processing everything.
The group several of whom had seen Pope Francis in person during his September visit to Washington, D.C. got within three feet of the Holy Father during his weekly audience at St. Peters Square. The pilgrims also had a chance encounter with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, who was at the Vatican for a meeting. Since it was the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the group was also able to walk through the Holy Door of St. Peters Basilica, which is only open during special years. Other highlights included time at the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.
Its amazing to be in places that are so old and beautiful and dedicated to glorifying God, said Father Thomas Yehl, who became Marymounts chaplain and director of Campus Ministry in January. You do feel a certain closeness to God when youre there.
The group also visited Lanciano, Assisi, Orvieto, Bolsena and Siena. Yehl said he loved walking and praying in Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, founder of the Franciscan religious order, during the early morning before the crowds arrived.
It was wonderful to see the Franciscans going about their day and know that something Saint Francis started 800 years ago is still going on, he said. You can certainly feel his spirit there. Visiting reminds you how deep and rich the faith is.
Hall said the lives of Saint Francis, Saint Clare, Saint Catharine of Siena and others inspired her.
I learned how they lived very holy lives and what truly made them Saints, she said. I also gained insight into the Eucharistic Miracles that took place in Bolsena and Lanciano.
Formerly a nondenominational Christian, Hall entered full communion with the Catholic Church at this past Easter Vigil.
As I have grown older and encountered some tough obstacles in my life the Catholic faith is what brought me back up, Hall said. I got involved in Campus Ministry as a freshman and have loved every minute of it. I just really feel Gods voice within the Catholic faith, and it feels like home to me.
Before becoming Catholic, Hall regularly attended Mass and participated in the lifestyle.
The only things I couldnt do were confession and partake in the Eucharist. After being in Italy, which is so rich in Catholic history, it all felt so overwhelming, in a good way, and it hit me that I am now Catholic and get to live the rest of my life that way.
Sarah Hall, a senior at Marymount University majoring in elementary education, inside St. Peter’s Basilica.
The group from Marymount in front of a fountain in Sienna.
Pope Francis waves to Sarah Hall in Saint Peters Square.