Killeen resident Dorothy L. Buford has spent many years worshiping God as a diehard Baptist. But that didn’t stop her from ending her European vacation in Rome by joining thousands of other people crowded into St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City to welcome the new pope.
Buford, 71, planned her trip last year just a few months after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, her third cancer diagnosis. She wanted to check off the rest of her bucket list, she said, so she began by taking an 11-day cruise with the Norwegian Cruise Line.
With her longtime college friend, Mary Clyde, Buford cruised the Mediterranean Sea, visiting Turkey, Greece and Cyprus and meeting hundreds of people from many countries.
“We then decided to go to Rome for three days,” she said. “I didn’t want to go at first because I’ve been there so many times.”
Buford is a retired federal civilian employee who spent many years operating recreation centers for soldiers all over the world.
The United Services Organization helped Buford and Clyde get a hotel room in Rome and the friends made plans to check out the sights. But they were easily distracted by the city’s excitement over the impending selection of a new pope.
“We just got caught up in the atmosphere of looking out for the white and black smoke,” she said. “We had just showered and went to bed, and the landlady at the hotel knocked on the door and said, ‘White smoke, white smoke!’”
The ladies immediately jumped out of bed when they heard the commotion. Buford heard a band playing music and each time she looked out the window saw more and more people running down the street toward the Vatican.
“We threw our clothes on over our pajamas and layered down, because it was cold and rainy, and we just took off,” she said. “I said we better go because this is history and we’ve got to see this.”
Buford saw people of all ages from all over the world as she braved her way through the stampede and squeezed through tight spaces to get into St. Peter’s Square.
“Once we got into the Vatican area, we kept getting pushed along with the group,” she said. “But being that I’m small, I just squeezed in the place, but I still couldn’t see the pope.”
Buford, who is 4-foot-9, met a couple from New York and other Americans who shared their guesses about the naming of the new pope. She was surprised when the announcement was made and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina — Pope Francis — stepped onto the balcony.
Buford watched the big screens as the newly elected pope spoke to the people.
“We got caught up with some of the people from Argentina who were screaming and yelling,” she said. “But when the pope told us all to pray for him, that’s when a chill ran down my spine.”
She spent her final hours in Rome buying rosary beads adorned with Pope Francis’ picture and had the rosaries blessed for her family members.
“This wasn’t something where you could compare religion,” she said. “I think this pope is going to be fantastic, and the whole thing is phenomenal.”