The Power and the Spectacle: My Final Day at the Vatican, in Rome, in Europe...

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May 27th 2015
Published: May 27th 2015
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At least, it's the final FULL day in those places. I'll be flying to Orlando tomorrow afternoon, via Oslo. But this morning I spent in St. Peter's Square for a "general audience" with the Pope, and that was a pretty decent way to cap off this Eurotrip.

Eno left on Tuesday morning - early. So that made my day a little more subdued than otherwise. I mean, we did travel around Italy for 10 days together, so now I'm just passing my time, really. There isn't any other sight (tourist or else) that has attracted my interest, so I've just been sitting back and soaking in the atmosphere. It's been more enjoyable for me than I would've thought, but then I have been running ragged for the past couple of weeks.

After Eno left, I spent some time getting up enough energy to face the day, but when I did leave my hotel around 9:30, I simply went to the Vatican. It was such a cool day, temperature-wise, so I sat in the colonnaded area of St. Peter's Square and watched the tourists busying themselves. I did notice that I wasn't being harassed on my way in, at least not nearly as much as when Eno was here. Maybe they're more aggressive when they see a pair of tourists, or families. But no one asked me if I wanted to buy anything. A couple of moneymakers asked if I wanted those "skip the line" tickets to the Vatican Museums, but since I had already done that, I told them so. I found a nice place to sit and write my postcards and watch as the line for entry into the basilica got longer and longer. I hadn't ever seen it that long - all the way around the colonnade. I'm glad we didn't have to deal with that when we went on Monday evening.

I was probably there for 90 minutes, enjoying the weather and having no hassles. But I started to get hungry, so I came back to the room. On the way, I stopped at a pizza place and brought my food with me. It was so good. But the hotel hadn't serviced my room (it was after 11 at this point, and the "rules" on the back of the door state that they service rooms between 9-10 AM), so I finished my food, checked the internet, and then headed back out.

It was warmer by then, but the colonnade was still nice and cool, with the breeze blowing through it. The line for the basilica had decreased, maybe because of the heat. After about 45 minutes, I gave my seat to a couple of retired British ladies, and we talked about what we had done in Rome. They asked me about my other travels, and they seemed impressed. They were flying back that afternoon. They also said that they had attended a nice concert at a church the night before, and how good it was. They also said it was incredibly cheap - "only 25€." To me, that's not "incredibly cheap," but then I'm probably more on a budget than they are, and Lord knows I've been on this trip long enough. I went into this free museum off the side of the basilica before I left the square. It had some artifacts from the 1200s to the 1800s, all religious and made of precious metals. The advertisement on the building billed them as sculptures, which I guess they were, but they weren't my favorite kind (like we'd see in the Uffizi in Florence, or the Vatican Museums). But it was free, so I spent about 30 minutes wandering about the place.

I stopped by a café on the way back to the room later on to do some people watching near the Vatican. I've also found my new favorite Fanta flavor - at least in Italy, since they don't have Shokata. It's lemon! It's like a fizzy lemonade. I don't know if we have that back in America, but I intend to find out when I return. I had noticed the sign on the screens in St. Peter's Square that tickets for the "general audience" were available on Tuesdays from 3-7 PM, so I thought I might look that up and see if it would be worth my time. Tickets were free. The internet told me that "general audience" is basically just when the Pope says a few words, a short sermon, to the large crowd gathered in the square and offers a blessing to those who've made the "pilgrimage" to the Vatican. So I decided why not? I went and collected my free ticket from the Swiss Guard around 6 PM - it wasn't where the website said it would be, but it was closer to my location, so no problem there. The ticket said 10 AM Wednesday. At least I had some morning plans, now.

The remainder of my day was spent getting things organized for the trip back - what do I leave? How can I fit X into the bag so that it takes up the least room? What goes in which bag? Etc. That kind of thing wears me out, so I went to bed shortly after.

This morning, I strongly debated sleeping in. Even though my ticket said the "general audience" didn't start until 10, the internet said to get there around 8, since most people show up between 8:30-9. I got out of the bed around 7:40, got ready, and was out the door just after 8. While I was getting dressed, I saw a large group of tourists come around the corner below my hotel and despaired. Great. Already. So I rushed downstairs and probably made it past that group, but when I got to the entrance to the square, there were so many people already there. I was told that the Pope would bless any religious articles that you brought with you, so I bought a 1€ rosary (or rosemary, as Eno would call it) with the Pope's picture on it and made my way to the crowd. There was no distinct line, so you just moved in herds. They had metal detectors and x-ray machines set up at the entrance to the colonnaded area, and somehow, I made my way to the shortest line I could see, once we got into the barricaded area (still before the metal detectors and x-ray machines). It went quickly, but there's no direction or signs to tell you where to go. I saw all these people standing against a metal railing, but I was looking for seats (they have chairs set up in the square in several sections, and I'm assuming they never leave). You have to go to the back of the square to get into the seating area, so once I did that, I was fine. I sat in the center, but it was about 2/3 of the way back from the basilica, where the Pope would be standing.

As more people flowed in, I got surrounded by a group of elderly women from Panama. They had flags with them, so I could tell. There were tons of groups, all with distinctive flags, shirts, banners, hats, whatever. They wanted to be seen and acknowledged by the Pope. I didn't have anything distinctive. I did bring my iPad with me - the website had said to bring something to read to pass the time. I got to my seat around 8:45, so I read for the next 30 or so minutes. Around 9:20, a priest got up to read the names of certain groups who had come to the show - it was in Spanish, and then another guy got up and did the same in French, etc., until all the big groups had been recognized. This took about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, the Pope showed up around 9:30 in his Popemobile, but there wasn't any glass protection that I could see. He got wheeled around through the roads that the barricades had created, going from left to right, front to back, and all around. He did this until they stopped reading the group names out. Then they drove him to the front, where he got out and ascended the stairs to the platform. He had a nice setup awaiting him - big chair, underneath a canopy to avoid the sun, and a couple of attendants on either side of him. The rest of us - including the cardinals - were out in the sun, and it got hotter and hotter the longer we were there. No cloud cover to speak of.

He gave his homily in Italian about engaged couples for about 15 minutes, and then a French priest got up and gave a 3-minute summary in French about what the Pope had said. Then the Pope welcomed all the French-speaking pilgrims and named a few specific groups from amongst them and blessed them, and then the English priest came up to do the same thing. Then the German priest, and the Spanish priest, and the Portuguese priest... Thirty minutes later, we were all invited to stand and chant the "Our Father" in Latin (it was on the reverse side of the ticket) with the Pope, and then he said a blessing on the religious objects we had brought. Next thing I knew, he was walking to the door and all the cardinals were getting up to follow him. The End.

The whole thing had only taken an hour. It wasn't too bad at all to get out of that mess, as much as I was dreading it. They were all civilized, which is more than I can say for the crowds getting into the audience earlier. I did see a lot of not-so-Christian elbowing and line-cutting on my way in. This whole thing was a spectacle, for sure, and while I'm sure there were people there for the sole purpose of being seen (or to check it off some list), there were others who truly felt moved by the whole thing. The way people were craning their necks and moving about just to get a glimpse of that Pope as he drove through the crowds. It was intense.

Bottom line: if you're in town on a Wednesday (the only days this event is regularly scheduled), then you should go. But don't plan your trip to Rome just so you can attend a general audience.

The skies opened up around 3PM this afternoon, just after I had enjoyed a cappuccino at a café across the street from the Vatican. I had to wait it out for a while with all the other folks huddled underneath the colonnade, but as soon as it lightened a little, I walked back to my hotel to get out of that mess. Now it's gotten even worse, so I'm probably done for the day. Time to pack up everything and enjoy a quiet final night in Europe.


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