Newly arrived American seminarians meet Pope Francis after travel quarantine

NAC Seminarians with Pope Francis Sept62020 Seminarians from the Pontifical North American College meet Pope Francis Sept. 6, 2020. | Vatican Media/CNA.

American seminarians met with Pope Francis this week after completing a 14-day mandatory quarantine upon their arrival in Rome.

For the 155 seminarians living at the Pontifical North American College (NAC) campus this year, the fall semester will be unlike any other in recent history due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"Thanks be to God everyone has arrived safely," Fr. David Schunk, vice rector for the college told CNA Sept. 9.

"Our protocol has been to have people tested before departing the US and then having a test done at the college when they arrive."

In addition to returning students, the seminary also welcomed 33 new seminarians to Rome, who were able to attend Mass in St. Peter's Basilica and visit Assisi for two days after their quarantine ended last week.

The new seminarians also had a chance to meet Pope Francis at the Clementine Hall of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace before the pope's Angelus address on Sept 6.

Fr. Peter Harman, rector of the seminary, assured the pope of their continued prayers in the meeting, adding: "We have just returned from pilgrimage to Assisi, and there we begged the intercession of St. Francis for Pope Francis."

"Please pray for us, that this new year will be one of grace, health and growth always in God's will," the rector asked the pope.

The American seminarians will soon begin in-person theology classes at Rome's pontifical universities. After ending the 2019-2020 academic year with online classes during Italy's lockdown, the Vatican-accredited schools were directed in June to prepare to teach in person with added health and safety measures.

Due to the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States, Americans are currently prohibited from entering Italy except for travel for business, study, or to visit relatives who are Italian citizens. All travelers from the U.S. arriving in Italy for these purposes are required by law to self-isolate for 14 days.

"As we await the start of university classes, we are holding our annual pastoral formation workshops on topics such as preaching/homiletics, pastoral counseling, marriage and sacramental preparation, and for the New Men, Italian language studies," Schunk said.

"Normally we have outside presenters, in addition to formation faculty, for some of the conferences and language studies. But this year with travel restrictions, some of the courses must be a hybrid of pre-recorded presentations and also live video presentations. While not ideal, things have gone well so far and the seminarians are grateful for the material."

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