The pace of life in and around St. Peter’s is really so full of energy and enthusiasm right now, the best word I’ve seen to describe comes from NCR reporter Joshua McElwee — a carnival. The constuction and preparation of the altar and platform and other structures in the Piazza is one thing. I’ve lost count of the various national and regional flags, the languages being spoken, and even the number of times street vendors have approached with the finest souvenirs ever made! Really! They told me so!
Everything is new and fascinating in this Eternal City right now, at least the parts closest to the Vatican. New structures have been built, especially the press scaffolds and so on. Traffic has been completely re-routed around the Vatican, and most of the shops and cafes and restaurants will be closed all day tomorrow because of the press of the crowds.
It has been another wonderful day with friends and new acquaintances. I had a quick coffee with NCR reporter Joshua McElwee, and then, after meeting with brother deacons Rob Mascini (the Netherlands) and Enzo Petrolino (Italy), I wandered over to the Borgo Pio, one of my favorite streets in Rome, just around the corner from St. Peter’s. Always a fascinating place people watching!
There was even some nice music for pranzo. . . .
After wandering around this morning and early afternoon, with the temperature rising fast, I stopped outside the Libreria Editrice Vaticana (bookstore) near the Vatican Press Office for a lemonade. Soon a couple came up and asked me in halting Italian if they could sit down as well! I answered “sure” in my best Midwestern English, and met a delightful couple from Chicago. While they are thrilled with the canonizations in a general way, they’re really hoping to encounter Francis. This seems a very common response. People are happy for the two popes being canonized, but in the hearts of many, Francis is already a saint as well, and he’s still with us! One of the most common images (of which I have many in my bag already) shows the two new saints flanking Pope Francis who is in the middle and slightly elevated over Pope John and Pope John Paul II.
My new friends told me that this was their first ever trip to Rome, but that they were already looking forward to coming back when things would be less hectic.
Among all the various national groups, the one that stands out are the Poles. As one person put it to me, “The Poles are back!” There are signs and songs and shouts all over the place; I can only imagine what will happen tomorrow when Pope John Paul II is announced as “Saint John Paul.” But Pope John is not forgotten. I saw several groups of people John’s home diocese of Bergamo: from young and old, clergy, religious and laity, all of whom are literally camping in St. Peter’s Square. Although the police are trying to tell people they can’t do that, no one has yet started removing them either. It will be interesting to see what happens on that score as well.
I had a delightful conversation with CNS reporter Carol Glatz and then decided to grab a taxi and return to our lodgings and rest for tomorrow. But, with every respect to my friends and colleagues, the highlight of the day was about to happen, completely by chance.
The Via della Conciliazione is now a pedestrian thoroughfare. People are simply walking up and down the whole length of the street, and the only motorized vehicles allowed now are related to public safety. Along the way, I encountered this delightful group of children being entertained by some local workers. Enjoy the video. It makes my day every time I watch it!
I have come back to the religious house where I’m staying where they young rector from the Congregation of Mariannhill Missionaries (CMM) and I took a light supper in the kitchen and talked about many things. Born and raised in South Africa, Fr. Musa is excited about the new energy being found in and about the church. He won’t be able to attend the canonizations tomorrow because he serves in several parishes on the weekend, but he asked for special prayers at the canonization and promised his in return. The house has pilgrims from the United States (well, just me), the Netherlands, and Germany. There was a young woman from Michigan staying here, according to Musa, but she called him to say that she was going to camp out in St. Peter’s Square tonight.
As for me, I will be getting up at 2:45 AM. Sister Philomena, the 84-year old dynamo who runs the kitchen, is putting out some breakfast things for me tonight, and Musa is getting up to arrange a taxi at 3:30 AM. (The taxi company wouldn’t arrange things in advance!). He said it was his way of participating in the event. I’ll take the taxi to Saint John Lateran to pick up the bus which will take us to the edge of Vatican City. There we will be met by officials from the Vatican’s Pilgrimage office at 5:00 AM and escorted to the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina to await the Mass and our service as ministers of communion.
So, it’s off to bed for a few hours sleep. Tomorrow will be an incredible day! Oh, and the forecast calls for rain and storms, but only AFTER the conclusion of the Mass. We shall see. . . .