So, here it is, we’ve finally made it to the last chapter and the most important day of the Rome trip. It’s been a long journey, hasn’t it folks? Thanks for riding it out with me. Let us resume…
Wednesday morning, we woke up bright and early at 6 a.m. Sleep did not come easy to me the night before. I kept thinking about what would happen the next day, and how exciting it was. I also kept worrying I would sleep through my alarm. Have you ever had a really important appointment the next day? so you wake up five times in the middle of the night checking your clock to make sure you didn’t sleep through the alarm? Yeah…that was my kind of night.
I had also taken a shower the night before, so that way I could curl my hair in the morning. You see, the in-room blow dryer, was, let’s just say, having technical difficulties. So, I figured by showering the night before, I would be out-smarting my bad hair day fate because then all I would have to do is curl my hair. I was wrong for two reasons. One, when I plugged in my curling iron, it did not heat up, and two, I now had bed-head bangs. Now, if you’ve never had bangs, you can’t possibly understand this but, what is so special about bed-head bangs is that when you’ve been sleeping on them for 6-8 hours, they have had the wonderful opportunity to become fused into a “style” that only water and a blow dryer can rectify. So into one of those trendy buns my hair went, and with the help of my husband, we were able to get the blow dryer working long enough to make my bangs NOT look like Cameron Diaz’s’ in There’s Something About Mary.
We all put our Sunday best on and made it out of the door by 7:20 a.m. We had to head over to a cafe bar that was about a five-minute walk from our B&B to pick up our Papal Audience tickets. I had coordinated with an agency to pick up our tickets from the Vatican for us because I didn’t think we were going to have time before hand.
While we were walking to the cafe bar, we were passing throngs of people headed in the opposite direction towards St. Peter’s Square. We saw many a tour bus stop and let people out. There were large tour groups wearing matching clothing (to recognize each other I am assuming) getting off the buses. There were even people on the street trying to sell Pope Francis flags and other merchandise.
After we got our tickets, we did an about-face and headed back in the direction we came. The Papal Audience does not usually start till 10-10:30, but to get seating, and I don’t mean “good” seating, just seating in general, you better show up at 7:30a.m. when they start admitting people in. I felt so anxious, tons of energy rushing through my body. It was like St. Peter’s Square was a magnet, and all of us were compelled to go there.
We finally reached what we assumed to be the line to get in. In America, you think of a line that is something that is straight, with one person behind the other, right? Not so much in Italy. Here, everybody just migrates as a group in the same general direction and somehow eventually everyone makes it in.
Even with that being said, I can’t begin to describe to you how electrifying it all felt. There was so much energy in the crowd. There were drums, people were chanting “Papa, Papa!”. I took a short little video to share with you, and if you didn’t know what we were there for, you would think we were waiting in line for a football game.
A strange little thing happened while we were waiting in this line. While we were all standing there, I saw what seemed like an opening in the mass of people to the left of us and some people in front of us broke away from the line and started heading in that direction. I don’t know what made me know to follow them, but I motioned to Jayson, who was pushing Sadie in the stroller, to follow me, and I just followed the group who had broken away from the line. It didn’t seem strange at the time, but looking back on the events of that day, it was important enough that if it hadn’t happened, I have no doubt our experience at the Papal Audience would have been entirely different.
Jayson looked at me skeptically, and at one point voiced that we better not have left one line for an even longer line, and I won’t lie, for a second, I thought we might have. We were headed to the front of St. Peter’s Square that connects to the road via della conciliazione (which is ironically translated to mean ‘the way of reconciliation’). There were masses of people lining the fenced off perimeter trying to have their tickets checked by the Carabinieri to be let in. I was seriously thinking “Holy crap, what did I do, why did I make us leave that line!” but then, I saw a taller gentleman speaking english, and he seemed to be directing a group of other American’s. So, I motioned to Jayson to keep following me because it seemed like this guy knew where he was going and sure enough, he led his group and unbeknownst to himself, my husband, me, and my baby, to an opening in the perimeter controlled by the Carabinieri. The Carabinieri were supposed to be checking our tickets and our bags, but, they barely glanced at either, and I suspect it is because there were only two of them at that location, and hundreds of people trying to rush them to get in.
Now here is the part in the story where it feels rushed, looking back on it, it did happen pretty fast. Not more than ten seconds after having made it inside the square, two men approached us, one of them speaking english, asked my husband if it was just the two of us (and the baby of course). We told him yes, and the next thing we know, we are being ushered all of the way up to the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. On the way there they told us that they had chosen us to receive special tickets and that we would be sitting up near where the Pope would be sitting.
I have to tell you that this was probably one of the most exciting moments of my life. Right up there with the time I met the President (I’ll explain one day). As we were walking briskly through the square, passing the thousands of other people trying to get in and/or find seating; heading towards the steps of the Basilica, I was thinking “Thank you God! I prayed for this, I prayed for this to happen, and I can’t believe that it actually IS!”.
Mind you, the night before when I was reading up on the Wednesday general audiences, I had read other people’s comments/experience’s and most of them sounded like this, “People are stupid if they think they are actually going to get to meet the Pope, thousands of people show up to these things, and barely anyone ever gets to”. So, as we followed the two men, Francesco and Enzo, my husband and I kept glancing at each other with that look of “I can’t believe this is happening”.
After we got to our new seats, we made ourselves comfortable and sat there chatting with Enzo, since he spoke english. As it turned out, even though he is Italian, he used to live and work in New York, when we asked him why he left, he told us that it was because he was there for 9/11. That was a humbling moment.
We still had about two hours before the audience was to start, so, I did what I do best, took more pictures.
I am telling you, it felt like we were waiting forever….but we weren’t complaining, I promise!
And here is when you know things are about to get rolling…
Apparently, around this time (10ish), the Pope had begun roaming throughout the crowds on his Pope Mobile (a Mercedes SUV). Another sign the Pope is approaching:
The Pope finally made it to his platform and for the next hour or so we listened to the speeches. It was hard to understand for obvious reasons. The Pope reads his speech in Italian, as is custom, then different Bishops (I think they are Bishops), summarize his speech in multiple languages; from English, to German, and I think I may have even heard some Arabic in there somewhere.
Now the exciting part starts (again). After all of the speeches are done, the Pope makes his way around again to bless religious items as well as people. As soon as he stood up to start visiting people, Enzo and Francesco rushed Sadie and me to the blockade so that we would be there if the Pope came down our way.
It felt like we were standing there for a very long time, my feet were hurting, my back was hurting, Sadie was getting antsy, etc. The whole time I was telling myself “Get over it, Stephanie! How many times in your life will this happen?!”.
Finally, after an hour had passed, the Pope made his way down the blockade in front of us. He had what can only be described as his entourage following him on both sides of the blockade. People on all sides of us were calling out in Italian to one of the Vatican staff to come get Sadie so she could be blessed. Italians LOVE babies, and Sadie was no exception. So they were doing everything in their power to persuade the gentleman to take Sadie for us., and God love them, it worked!
This was a very emotional moment for Jayson and me. We both teared up. Sadie is so very special to us, she is our blessing, and to have her blessed by the Pope on her first birthday–well, there are no words to describe how much it meant to us. Looking back on that day, and the days leading up to it, I somehow deep down knew it was going to happen. I really believe it was in God’s plan for it to happen that day.
Before I end this, I want to give a special thanks to Francesco and Enzo for plucking us out of the crowd that day. You didn’t know who we were, where we came from, or anything else–you just chose us, and for that, we will be forever grateful.
I also want to say thank you to everyone whose followed my ‘When in Rome’ posts…I hope it has been as entertaining to you to read, as it was for me to write.