The entire trip to Italy came about with the arrival of Jorge Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis, the first Latino to hold the papal office. Considering my obsession with all things Spanish-related and my Catholic faith, I knew this was a sign to head to Vatican City. And so we planned our Italy trip around the Papal Audience, a year in advance, banking on the fact that the Pope would not be out of town on that particular Wednesday toward the end of June. As luck had it, it turned out to be his final Audience of the summer. And as if this bit of good fortune were not enough to remind us we made the right decision, another divine intervention was awaiting us in Rome. Months earlier when I contacted my church about getting tickets for the Papal Audience, I received an email with information on picking up the tickets the evening before the event. From skimming the email, I saw the office was near the Trevi Fountain, so directions in hand, we navigated the streets of Rome in that direction. As we got closer, I abandoned the paper, thinking it a better idea to follow the signs to the Trevi Fountain and then look at the directions from there. Strolling down an alleyway, I happened to look up and there was the sign I’d been looking for, just by chance. One might say this was not much of a divine intervention, but as we were looking at the sign, a nun opened the door saying “I think this is the place you are looking for,” in English–I mean, come on! And so we had our golden (actually blue) ticket to the Pope.
The next morning we were off early heading to the Holy See. We had many differing pieces of advice about when and even where to get in line. Our taxi dropped us off directly in front of St. Peter’s and lines were already forming. After asking several people where the line went into the square, we discovered that chaos was the norm at these events. It seems they change where the lines go in (huh?) so we took a chance and got in line behind a group of about 30 nuns—I figured we had had good luck with the nun the day before, so why not go with that theme.
Well, unfortunately these nuns were not part of my divine intervention theory as about 45 minutes later everyone in our line starting moving to a side entrance. When we arrived there amid much commotion, we found ourselves much further back in line than we had hoped with such an early arrival time. And so we waited another 45 minutes and the gates opened. Much to our surprise we were able to find seats four rows back from the main aisle and right next to a side aisle. Not really knowing where the Popemobile would go, I began to imagine him passing down the side aisle where I would hug the railing, reaching out to try to touch him. It brought back memories of me in the front row at an MC Hammer concert in 1992…but I digress.
The next hour spent in our seats waiting for the Pontiff’s arrival brought entertainment I never planned on. A large group of elderly Portuguese women occupied the rows in front of us. They seemed sweet enough with their matching shirts and local priest in tow. And they were sweet, except for the She-Devil in front of me. She first began with a game of chair moving that greatly resembled a chess match. We watched in amusement as she re-positioned her chair from row three to row two. A little while later, the sky turned dark and soon we were the recipients of a light rain. The whole crowd was a sea of umbrellas until the showers let up and the sun came out. All umbrellas in the square were lowered. All but one. Ah…She-Devil, why must you make me angry? This act of passive aggression was not well received by anyone in our section. Not only was her parasol blocking the main aisle, it was also blocking the Jumbo-tron where we could see the Pope. I’d like to say that I let the people around me yell at her while I said a rosary, but that was not the case. In a combination of my Spanish and English and terrible attempts at the little Portuguese I know, I tried to get her to relent. I even called upon the assistance of crowd security officers and a Swiss guard, but to no avail. I sat down and steamed, thinking less than Christian thoughts while I sat in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral when a cheer erupted and the Pope appeared on the scene. As if by divine intervention, the umbrella went down! Hallelujah!
The Pope weaved through the aisles and it soon became clear that my fantasy of him coming down the side aisle would not come to fruition. Instead he was slowly making his way across the main aisle directly in front of us. With everyone on their feet, the rows of chairs were a jumbled mess with many in our section easing their way toward the front partition. Do I sound innocent when I say that I was shocked to find myself standing in front of She-Devil when the Pope passed by? Only God knows how that happened. But not only did I get a great picture of Francis, but the She-Devil as well as I was returning to my seat.
The Audience was a beautiful mix of prayers and homily translated into many languages, the Pope addressing the public in Italian and Spanish, culminating in the entire square reciting the Our Father in Latin. The whole event was one of the most moving things I have ever experienced. Pope Francis is truly a beautiful human being.
Later we toured the Vatican Museum for a few hours where my husband Russell showed his appreciation of the arts. Unfortunately no photos of the Sistine Chapel are allowed although we did see some violators of this rule, followed by the confiscation of their cameras by security. We Catholics are all about the rules! Exiting the museum via the Michelangelo designed staircase, we went outside and headed back to St. Peter’s but after seeing the long line, we decided to return the following day when there was no line and we walked right into the cathedral, behind nuns of course, as that is the theme of this trip.
Standing in front of Michelangelo’s Pieta was breathtaking and just taking in the light of the cathedral was a truly religious experience. I could have sat in there all day, but while sitting in the pew gazing upon all of its magnificence, I noticed confessional booths to my right. Deciding there was no better place to take in this sacrament, I found a booth with an English speaking priest. And just what did I get off my conscience, you’re wondering? Nothing that exciting–there’s only one She-Devil in Vatican City.