LITTLE FALLS -- Two Franciscan Sisters witnessed history in the making while on recent business trips to Rome.
With reports of an ailing Pope John Paul II, the world was on standby when Sister Beatrice Eichten arrived in Rome for meetings. Sister Eichten said media outlets from around the world encompassed the Vatican waiting for the announcement of the pope's death.
On April 2, the announcement came, and the Vatican's bells rang, symbolizing the pontiff's death. Sister Eichten said after the announcement her meetings were canceled, allowing people time to reflect and pay their respects.
Thousands of people lined the streets of Rome waiting to see the body of Pope John Paul II after his April 2 death. Sister Beatrice Eichten of Little Falls was in Rome when the pope died.
"It was a real privilege to be there," she said.
Sister Eichten was amazed by the volume of people converging on Rome's cobblestone streets, waiting in line to get a glimpse of John Paul's body.
"There were swarms of people trying to get in line, but they were all quiet, respectful and courteous," she said.
Because the lines were so long, and Sister Eichten had seen John Paul in the past, she decided not to wait to see his body.
"I've seen him when he was living. I don't need to see him when he's dead," Sister Eichten said. "I watched much of it on TV in Latin, even though I couldn't understand it."
Sister Eichten's meetings resumed the next week, and she had to go through three checkpoints to get through the police lines to attend her meetings at the Vatican.
People gathered in one of Rome's plazas to watch Pope John Paul II's funeral on a large screen. Sister Beatrice Eichten, a Franciscan Sister based in Little Falls, said watching the funeral surrounded by the large crowd made it feel like she was actually at the service.
John Paul's funeral was April 8. Sister Eichten, along with about 30,000 other people, watched it on a large TV screen in one of Rome's many plazas. Sister Eichten said although she was watching the funeral on a screen, being surrounded by so many people made it feel like she was in St. Peter's Basilica.
"People just stood holding the awe and respect of the moment," she said. "It was a very impressive expression of people honoring this one man who touched people's lives in so many ways."
Sister Mary Pat Burger was at the Vatican on April 19 when the rise and fall in crowd noise coming from St. Peter's Square interrupted her meeting.
Sister Burger said if white smoke was spotted coming from a chimney atop the Sistine Chapel, the meeting would be adjourned in celebration of a new pope being selected.
"We saw the smoke, but couldn't figure out if it was black or white," Sister Burger said. "The bells didn't ring right away, so the crowd was going back and forth."
Sister Beatrice Eichten
Sister Burger described the thousands of people running into St. Peter's Square after the smoke was spotted "like ants swarming."
"There were thousands of people within minutes," she said.
Sister Burger found herself in the midst of the crowd, waiting anxiously to hear the bells ring, signifying a new pope being named.
"I was excited. It was something beyond the moment," she said. "There was a spiritual connection, a sense of being a part of a 2,000-year tradition we have in the church."
While waiting for the new pope to make his first appearance, Sister Burger, surrounded by people speaking different languages, was interviewed by a CBS News affiliate from Chicago.
Sister Mary Pat Burger
"But they couldn't get a signal, so I don't think the interview ever aired," she said.
Sister Burger said the crowd was excited to see the smoke and hear the bells toll, but felt some reservations when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope.
"I didn't have any favorites. I was just happy to have a pope," Sister Burger said.
The sisters said they have a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to Pope Benedict XVI.
"He's a human being -- he didn't all of a sudden be named God," Sister Burger said.
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