A fable? Parable? Morality play? A good yarn? you decide....
Well, after a near miss of not making it (that would be the 50 minute security check at my connection--this trip has done nothing to alleviate my dislike of O'Hare), I landed in Rome this morning, in a state of near exhaustion. I managed in the air trip to not get enough to drink, not sleep, and was still hungry for breakfast. I exchanged my money for a lousy rate, couldn't get anyone to take my money and give me food, and finally figured out the taxi thing (and I'm sure they overcharged). So it was going Ok but not brilliantly. I give hats off to Casa LaSalle--they were great. But I got into my room and thought--sleeping could be really really nice--
But could I live with myself? Probably not. So I got out the metro ticket Casa LaSalle had for me (see how nice?) and went to find the beatification, which was starting in 40 minutes.
See the crowd? See St. Peter's waaaaay in the distance?
Anyway, I got out at Via Ottaviani to see the above. This was as close as I could get to St Peter's Square. Everyone was watching and listening to a big screen simulcast--they had these all over the city.
That sounds like it could be a bummer, but it wasn't. I hadn't expected, arriving so late, to get nearby, so being close to a ton of others there for the same thing and being able to "listen in" was still very cool. It was far from the most contemplative atmosphere I've ever seen, but it was a celebration, after all. Everyone, despite being packed like sardines, was in a brilliantly good mood.
An hour in (and following it well enough, even in Italian, to know we weren't even into the liturgy of the eucharist!), knowing I was participating in a mass but was not going to be able to receive Eucharist anyway, I realized I HAD to address the no food/drink problem or literally collapse, so I found an ATM and got a slice of pizza and a Coke. Amazing how being fed and watered helps you feel like you actually can do the full day. Volunteers began passing out free water bottles throughout the day, which was welcomed. It was a BEAUTIFUL day but the sun was very bright and the crowds made it hotter than it was.
The mass finally ended well into the two hour mark. I recognized the Angelus in Latin but had no idea how to respond. Lots of others did, though, and there were people kneeling in the streets. That when the big celebrating began:
Speaking of which, I decided to try to find St Peter's as their throngs were leaving. I felt like a salmon swimming upstream, and of course got lost because they were blocking streets to regulate the exodus, but I finally got there. First: wow! You turn the corner and this huge Basilica is right there! Second: since there were thousands of people who had camped there all night long, it definitely had a "lived in" feel. They were praying in vigil all night. It's mostly newspapers, but oh, those poor garbage collectors.
I wanted to see if I could venerate the remains of now Bl. John Paul II, since that was going on all day, but once in line, backed out. It was hot in the sun, and the "line" (aka serpentine mob) was packed shoulder to shoulder, and it looked like hours of waiting--which I didn't think I could handle without fainting. So I regretfully got out of line and people watched. I seriously think I saw every order you can shake a stick at, lots of priests, and by the way, LOTS of young lay people. Frankly, there was lots of EVERYONE, from all over. And occasional fainting episodes aside, everyone was so pleasant and happy, sometimes singing and dancing too. My old friend David said that St. Peter's was like a Grateful Dead concert, only with habits, and I hope this doesn't offend anyone, but I see what you mean, David. Everyone was amazingly mellow and happy. Although no drugs involved. :-)
Well, unless you consider Gelato a drug.
Anyway, I know my friends at home were pushing the "see the Basilica interior, maybe go see another Church and come back to the beatification, and make sure you eat at a good restaurant and have pasta"--but today was much more about being there with this crowd, remembering all the good John Paul II did, and eating a slice of pizza sitting on the cobblestones of the street. It's hard to explain how touching this was, even though I rarely understood what anyone was saying (every language but English it seemed like!). There was such a palpable joy in the air. Everyone was so happy, we were almost in tears, together.
And here is evidence I was there: