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Next pope needs to re-energize Catholic Church, Duquesne's Italian students say

| Saturday, March 9, 2013, 9:30 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Erika Ciesielski, 20, of Scott Township, a student at Duquesne University's Italian Campus, takes notes during an on-site class in Rome. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Jonathon Jacobeen, 21, of Manassas, Va., a student at St. Vincent College, spends some time in St. Peter's Square. He wants “someone like John Paul, who is going to push” change at a time of “decline in (Western) culture.” Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
St. Vincent marketing major Ryan Wagner, 18, of Mt. Pleasant wants a church “that will strengthen my faith, not dictate what I should and should not do.' Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Michael Wright (left), director of Duquesne University's Italian Campus, tells his students to “change your life (and) be a citizen of the world.” Samuel Celotto (right) is assistant resident director at the school's campus in Rome. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

ROME — As Roman Catholic cardinals consider who should be their church's 226th pope, students at Duquesne University's Italian campus know what they want — someone to revitalize the church and exorcise its scandal-ridden Vatican bureaucracy.

“The church really needs a shot in the arm,” said Andrew Benscics, 21, a junior from the North Hills. “The next pope needs to be very open and upfront about all the abuse and scandals.”

Duquesne, Pittsburgh's 134-year-old private Catholic school, opened a Rome campus in 2001. In 2004, it relocated to the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth institute outside Vatican City.

Its director, Michael Wright, encourages the campus' 120 students to “change your life (and) be a citizen of the world.”

For this semester's students, being in Rome during last week's College of Cardinals meetings, and for Tuesday's start of a conclave to elect a pope, is a thrilling brush with history.

Many of them plan to be in St. Peter's Square when the next pontiff first appears.

Benscics wants that pope to introduce sweeping changes, such as allowing priests to marry “to help with the shortages of priests, especially in Europe and America.”

With no clear front-runner among the 115 cardinal electors, he thinks “an American pope would be amazing.”

Other students agree that, since most Catholics live beyond Europe's borders, a pope from another part of the world isn't a bad idea — even if it has not happened in nearly 1,300 years.

Louis Isabella, 21, of Youngstown, Ohio, would like an outsider “who hasn't spent the last 20 years at the Vatican like Pope Benedict did.”

“I really feel like, if we had an outsider, maybe someone from Africa or from Latin America, it would break the stereotype that Catholicism is a religion for old white people,” Isabella said.

Dan Branagan, 21, of Johnstown believes “a younger pope could bring a lot of vigor” and exciting changes, as well as bring church “scandals out in the open (and) move on.”

He hopes women are given a larger role in the church and priests are allowed to marry.

During an on-site architecture class in Rome's 380-year-old Barberini Palace — built in part by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the leading sculptor of his time — art historian Elizabeth Lev asked the Duquesne students to determine which two architects built the palace's two entries.

After class, student Erika Ciesielski, 20, of Scott confessed to knowing as little about Rome's architecture as about conclaves. She is learning about both fast.

Ciesielski believes one of the church's problems is that it is “playing it by the book, a little bit old school. I think we need to make the necessary changes to adapt to the modern world.”

She said the next pope must “understand the younger demographics” and accept new ideas.

Duquesne's students are echoed by several from St. Vincent College, a Catholic school in Latrobe, who are here on a two-week study program.

“How many people can say they have been to Rome with no pope?” said computer science major Shawna Hetrich, 22, of Johnstown. She, too, wants to see “a little younger” pope who can “re-energize the church.”

Marketing major Ryan Wagner, 18, of Mt. Pleasant wants a church “that will strengthen my faith, not dictate what I should and should not do. I think the Catholic Church for today's society is a little bit strict.”

But Wagner also hopes the next pope “uses his powers (to) really make a difference in the world.”

Jonathon Jacobeen, 21, of Manassas, Va., a St. Vincent philosophy and music major, wants “someone like John Paul, who is going to push” change at a time of “decline in (Western) culture.”

On Saturday, crowds grew larger in St. Peter's Square, cheering as Vatican workers installed a rust-colored chimney on the Sistine Chapel's terracotta-tiled roof. That chimney will play a significant role as Tuesday's conclave begins: After cardinals vote on a pontiff, their ballots are burned — black smoke indicating no decision, white smoke signifying the election of a pope.

The Vatican sought to quash speculation that divisions among cardinals could drag out the conclave to elect the next pope.

“I think it's a process that can be carried out in a few days without much difficulty,” spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters.

A two-thirds majority, or 77 votes, is required to select a pope.

“It is just so humbling, being at the epicenter of such a global and historic event,” said Duquesne student Sandi Communale, 19, of Seven Fields. “To be surrounded by so much love for a common purpose — you're liberal, you're conservative — the differences don't matter.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

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