After the night before’s threenager-induced terrible-fest, we abandoned all plans of getting to the 10am papal Mass in St. Peter’s Square super early.
The sister at the orientation at NAC said 7am was the best bet to get good seats. Sitting for three hours in the hot sun with the kids with nowhere to go sounded horrible anyway, so we thought that maybe we could baby-no-line our way in with no expectations of seats when we walked over around 9:00. We joined a crowd waiting to get into another crowd who was waiting to go through the security. Our apartment is one block from the Vatican walls on the south side and we found the crowd there at the exit of the Terminal Gianicolo exit somewhat reasonable for a major feast day Mass.
We shamelessly went up to the first barricade to ask the police officer if we could go through. He explained that the crowd was bigger on the other side and that it would be better for the kids if we waited a bit there first. When they started letting people through, they let us through first, scolding others for jostling me, the mother with the bambino. Their utter earnestness about the baby between puffs on their vapes (yes, really) tickled me. I love the baby-appreciation society of Italian men.
We joined a very sweaty crowd moving imperceptibly forward to the metal detectors. I tried to just let the experience happen to me, but being jostled on all sides, wearing the baby, dealing with no cultural expectation of line etiquette, and feeling the sweat accumulate under my Vatican-appropriate outfit is the stuff of my highly sensitive person nightmares. I was surviving though and it was neat listening to all the different languages and the French charismatics singing to pass the time. The charismatic renewal crowd was boisterous and joyful and from everywhere. I loved the African women’s expertly tailored dresses made of screen-printed fabric with the jubilee’s logo. A French woman admired Therese and we discovered we could speak to each other in Spanish after my French familiarity proved next to nil. As we approached the checkpoint, an Argentine woman with whom I had been chatting decided to help us get through with the kids around the people pushing past. She held the diaper bag and announced the “bebe” and got us through when it seemed hopeless.
Finally, we were in the Square. After the crush of people, it seemed almost empty even though of course it wasn’t. The Mass started on Italian time at 10:20, just after we made it in. We couldn’t see very well. Pope Francis was a prominent speck on the stage, but we were close to a jumbotron. The Mass is mostly in Italian with some Latin responses. My favorite part was the Alleluia. It was a tune I had heard and sung so many times before at Mass at home, but this time people from all across the world sang it together. “Alleluia” does not change much between languages. It was an image of the first Pentecost. From the readings today at Mass:
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God.”
We wanted to try to stay by the barrier because we knew Francis would drive by in his Popemobile at the end of Mass and we had aspirations for a baby kiss, but by the end of the Liturgy of the Word, everyone was falling apart. We were in dead sun and despite a Ukrainian family’s best efforts at keeping us under their umbrella and giving Christopher a bandana with the charismatic renewal anniversary logo on it, we were melting. We decided during the homily to find a shady spot around the perimeter.
We sat among pilgrims from Malaysia and Ghana. During the passing of the peace, we gave each other peace in our native language, but understood each other. Another mighty act of God. Every tribe, tongue, and nation there to worship God and receive the Lord. I was so impressed by the Ghanaian reverence for the Eucharist. Where else would I have encountered it outside of Ghana?
Chris scouted out another spot for us at the barrier to receive communion. We then maneuvered to yet another spot to wait for the Pope to drive by. We ended up next to a group of Indians or Pakistanis from the UAE who loved Therese. I let a woman next to me hold her for a bit, a relief after a very sweaty morning of Ergo and nursing standing up. Her husband held an umbrella over us and she tried unsuccessfully to get the Spanish guy in front of us to switch places with me so Therese could be in the first row.
We watched Francis get into the Popemobile (Christopher’s favorite part; I think he’s a Francis fan now that he knows he has a vehicle) on the jumbotron and saw him wind through the crowd. It was obvious when he headed toward us. Surrounded by security and announced by the happy cries of the people around him, he drove by with a smile and waved. I was unexpectedly moved. When he passed, the woman who had held Therese and I hugged and kissed on the cheek as we cried and said goodbye. It was a sweet moment and I tear up thinking about it now. The Pope is human, of course, and we do not worship him. But Chris and I were reflecting on how, in Acts, crowds of people followed Peter and Paul, wanting just to touch their shadows as they passed by. Here was the successor of Peter, a man, yes, and a flawed one, but he is our shepherd and it was wonderful just to see him pass by.
Chris and I decided to stick around to see if he’d make another pass. Another man in front of us helped me hold Therese up on his shoulder so she could get a little higher and catch his eye. Francis came down the aisle again and I held her up in her little white dress. He nodded in our direction and gave her a blessing! I don’t want to sound delusional, but it was corroborated by the little crowd around us. It was unmistakable. What a gift. The Spanish guy from earlier even said to us “Un bendicion! Un bendicion!”
We hightailed it out of there after Francis ended his tour around the square. We wanted to get out of the Square ahead of the crowds. On a high from the blessing, we chatted happily with Christopher and had a leftovers and a good siesta at home. It was quite the change from an hour earlier with a sweaty and crying Therese getting crushed by people. Reader, I turned to Chris and said “this sucks.” God forgive me. But it certainly ended well and the image of Pope Francis blessing Therese and Christopher will be with me until the end of my days. May it bear much fruit in their lives.
After our siesta, we did some souvenir shopping and then we decided to walk around Trastevere, the up and coming hipster neighborhood on the Vatican side of the Tiber. We had promised Christopher a trip to the park, so we climbed Janiculum hill to find a gorgeous view and not much park.
We stumbled upon a little carousel, though, and Chris took him on two rides and a trip through the unlicensed Disney character bouncy house while I nursed Therese and she smiled at the busts of various Italians in view from our bench.
We continued our walk back down the hill into Trastevere proper. The neighborhood is absolutely gorgeous and not yet swarming with tourists. This was a sweet chunk of time, more of what we imagined when we went to Rome. It was romantic, beautiful, and relatively calm. We found the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Mass was going on, so we couldn’t stay to look around, but the mosaic behind the altar was breathtaking. Christopher said grumpily, “Can we get gelato for once?” Who could say no to such threenaged drama.
We stopped for gelato at Fior di Luna, a place Chris found recommended by Katie Parla. The flavors were basic, but absolutely delicious. We got Christopher his own cone (and a cup for the inevitable leaning tower of ice cream), a dream come true.
We walked through the streets, enjoying our gelato and looking for the church of St. Cecilia. When we found it, we prayed for our friends and Therese’s godparents, Lizzy and Teaghan and their little Cecilia. The church has another beautiful mosaic and the sculpture of St. Cecilia is simple and moving.
We made a plan for dinner in the church’s piazza and walked to Pasta e Vino, a self-service place. I got Cacio e Pepe and Chris got some sort of pork in sauce to go and we walked back to our apartment along the Tiber.
It was a magical evening, fueled by gelato and the grace of an apostolic blessing. Christopher was in good spirits and so were we. We started thinking about how much we couldn’t see and how much we wanted to see again. Rome grew in our hearts today, even with all of its difficulty.