March 5, 2020 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

You never can fully predict what you will experience while on an experiential learning trip at King’s. One minute Danielle McCann, third-year Catholic Studies for Teachers student and Colleen Sousa, fourth-year Honours Double Major in History and Religion & Society, were standing in line to go through security at the Vatican. They were in Rome as part of a Reading Week Experiential Learning trip that included students from Rome and the Christian Tradition, RS 2352G, led by Dr. Mark Yenson, Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies.

The next minute they were sitting in the front row of an audience with Pope Francis. Sousa was suffering from a broken leg she had injured in December and was invited to receive a blessing along with others who were sick or injured at the gathering.

McCann and Sousa went through a different security line to the audience hall and were ushered to the very front row.

“When I woke up that Wednesday morning, I never would have dreamed that I would be sitting in the front row of a Papal Audience and be given the opportunity to shake hands with Pope Francis, the successor of Peter,” McCann says.

As the audience finished, Pope Francis came down the steps with his security and shook hands with all in the front row, including the King’s students.  McCann admits that when Pope Francis came up to her, “all I could do was stare.” She says the Pope “had a soft smile on his face and, as I shook his hand, I couldn't bring myself to say anything. It was absolutely surreal. I have been Catholic my whole life, and for me to have the opportunity to meet the head of the Catholic church is an experience that I will be so thankful for, forever. “

“It was overwhelming meeting him. I was star struck seeing him in person like that. I tentatively stuck my hand out and he actually reached out and grab my hand to shake it. When I looked at his face I could tell he was genuinely smiling, you could see it in his eyes and I felt that he genuinely wished me better health,” says Sousa.

The other students on the trip also were able to see Pope Francis as part of the audience.

While the Papal Audience was certainly the highlight of the trip to Rome, overall the trip was very rewarding for the students.

“It really felt like my three years of education at King's thus far were coming to a climax because I was able to relate my learning from pretty much every class that I have taken to some aspect of the history and culture of Rome,” says McCann.

“The trip was like a culmination of everything I have learned throughout my degree. I thought back to my first year in the King's Foundations in the Humanities program and couldn't help but feel that it had all come full circle,” says Sousa.

The trip to Rome also brought to life for the students the value of experiential learning to their overall education.

“It is one thing to learn about the Christian Tradition in a classroom, but it is a totally different experience when you get to go to one of the places that is so influential and important to Christianity and be able to apply all that Religious Studies has given us for the past three years,” says McCann.

McCann would encourage every student who is able to take advantage of an experiential learning opportunity. “It is learning on the ground and it allows you to apply your knowledge concretely and experience first-hand everything you have seen or heard in a lecture,” says McCann.

Watch the video of the Papal audience at

To learn more, visit the King’s at Rome social media accounts: