Harvard Students To Visit Vatican, Meet Pope

About 20 Harvard students will travel to Vatican City for a week during spring break to participate in the first-ever Harvard Vatican Leadership Summit and potentially meet Pope Francis.

As part of the trip, the students, who come from the College as well as several of Harvard’s graduate schools, will hear Pope Francis speak, and may speak privately with him. On March 15, students will participate in a baciamano, a ceremony in which people kiss the Pope’s hand as he walks by.

“The baciamano, I think, is pretty interesting for me, because that’s the closest we might get to the Pope,” said Elam D. Jones, a student at the Divinity School who will attend the trip.

In addition to meeting the Pope, students will discuss public policy issues including Syria’s refugee crisis, education, and healthcare with Catholic Church officials.

Alondra I. Ramirez ’18 said that she is excited to discuss the Vatican’s efforts to improve education worldwide with Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, who oversees the Vatican’s education efforts.

Okendo Lewis-Gayle, a student at the Kennedy School who organized the trip, said he hopes discussions about topics like education will make students think about their own experiences at Harvard and how they can go on to further serve “the needs of society” after graduation.

Father William T. Kelly, Pastor and Senior Chaplain at the Parish of St. Paul in Harvard Square, said the trip will also let students observe religion and daily life in Rome.

“It’s not a place where you’ll come away thinking it was overly pious, overly religious,” he said. “But you’ll see a place where religion seeps into daily life.”

Participants also said that they look forward to sharing what they learn about religion with others at Harvard after their trip.

Lewis-Gayle had the idea to organize this trip after speaking with Law School Professor Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, at a mass that they were attending.

“We noted that you’ve got all these treks everywhere...and there’s no trek to Rome,” he said. “I figured, ‘Why not?”’

Also over spring break, a group of Harvard students will travel to Israel as part of the College’s Israel Trek, sponsored by Harvard Hillel, a religious group for Jewish students.

Lewis-Gayle said that, while the Catholic summit is happening for the first time this year, he hopes it will become an annual trip.

“I am determined to make this into one of the premier ethical leadership programs in the United States,” he said.

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at caroline.engelmayer@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

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