First things first – Happy 81st Birthday Pope Benedict! (I’m sure he’s reading this blog in his spare time…)
What a perfect day to reflect on my close encounters of the Papal kind. Scott and I have been blessed to be in the presence of the Holy Father about a dozen times. Many times were deeply spiritual, a few were just downright exciting. It’s hard to describe, really. Being in his presence. He just evokes this excitement and you can feel the Holy Spirit. Really, you can. Gives me goosebumps. Hold on to your zuchetto’s, here goes this week’s top ten, in chronological order:
BEST PAPAL MEMORIES
(Disclaimer: these are all of JP2, as we haven’t had the honor of seeing B16 in person yet…)
1. 2000, St. Peter’s Square. This was our first general audience, held in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. When he came out in the open-air Popemobile (which I have to say, I chuckled when I first heard that!), it was crazy to see people practically stepping (um, ACTUALLY stepping) on other people to get a glimpse. I just kinda hung back with my big, fat telephoto lens and enjoyed the view as I stood on my chair. I wanted to scream – “Hey people, if you’ll just relax we can ALL see him.” But, these are Italians. They don’t know orderly lines. I do remember him speaking, but it was pretty tough to understand, even when he spoke in English.
Scott and I, just after the audience. About a week later, we renewed our wedding vows here!
2. 2000, Eucharistic Procession, St. John the Lateran to St. Mary Major. Rome has 4 major basilicas (St. Peter’s being the biggest and most famous). Each year on the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Pope travels from St. John to St. Mary, via the Popemobile, as he kneels in front of the Eucharist. Mostly he prays. So, when we stood along the street we were simply expecting to see the Pope praying…albeit he would only be about 10 feet away. But, he had this connection with teenagers. And, sure enough, just as he approached our group, he opened his eyes and looked at all 30 of us in our group. The kids went nuts, I clicked a few photos and almost dropped my camera. I have never looked into the eyes of someone that Holy. It was intense. Even for this convert who was slow to warm up to him.
3. 2000, right after the procession. His car zoomed by us as we were making our way to dinner. The lights were flashing, we heard a honk and off he sped. That one was exciting.
4. 2000, Sunday Angelus. Each Sunday afternoon, the Pope briefly addresses the crowd at St. Peter’s and prays the Angelus, usually in Italian, from his apartment window. This was about the time that his health was starting to decline, but I remember closing my eyes and really focusing on what he was saying. That’s when I wished I knew Italian.
5. 2002, Canonization of Padre Pio, St. Peter’s Square. Our youth group and half a million (seriously) of our closest friends descended upon Rome for this historic canonization when an ordinary priest officially became a saint. (Padre Pio is a whole other post) Remember how I said it was like 150 degrees? Well, this day it was 200. No lie. We baked. But, we made history while we baked. At the time I don’t remember thinking this was a cool, spiritual thing to do. I just wanted water, a fan and a clean bathroom. But, looking back 6 years later, what a moment. What a day.
6. 2002, Pope Paul VI Hall. Yep, this one was definitely an answer to prayer. If you’ve ever been to Rome in June, it’s kinda like south Texas in August – so dad gum hot you can fry eggs on the concrete. Our youth group had been talking all morning about how cool it would be if the audience was indoors, not out, so we wouldn’t have to bake in the sun, again. But, that usually only happens if it’s raining, so we didn’t have much stock in that…until we arrived at the Square and the Swiss Guards started diverting us into the Hall. OH MY. Without a doubt, this was my favorite audience with the Pope. #1: It was air-conditioned. #2: JP2 just seemed more energetic. In the middle of his English address (he typically does the same one in 4-5 languages), a guy in the back of the hall yells out, “JP2, we love you!” The place went nuts. He just smiled a little and kept on going. Oh, how I wish I could’ve seen him in his youth – with his energy and charisma at 100%.
7. 2002, Sunday Angelus. This one broke my heart. JP2 could hardly speak, he sounded so weak. And, truly, I thought this might be the last time we ever saw/heard him. That was an emotional audience for me and all those in the square that day.
8/9. 2002, World Youth Day, Toronto, Canada. What a difference a teenager makes! This was just one month after we saw him in Rome. Truly? A different man arrived at World Youth Day. He was invigorated, funny and completely engaged. Amazing. We took 700 (yes, you read that correctly) of our teenagers from the Diocese of Lafayette to WYD. We were right along the ropeline for the Popemobile. And, once again, he looked right at our teens. What a spiritual moment. To be in the presence of holiness. We celebrated Mass the following morning and it was almost entirely in English. A real rarity and it was awesome.
10. 2003, Papal Audience. Scott and I returned to Rome for a Stewardship Conference. This was where we actually had a public audience with the Pope (which means you’re in the general vicinity!!) We were on the steps of St. Peter’s for this audience and could really see his expressions, his struggles to speak, his humanness. He was drooling so badly, the Cardinal sitting next to him kept wiping his mouth. I will never forget seeing how a human being could carry the cross of suffering with such dignity. Today, in our society, we cast off people like that – shutter them in a nursing home. But, he suffered before the world and gained its respect. Perhaps even taught us that in dying, we live through Christ. It was at this audience I was pregnant with our own little John Paul – but, we didn’t find out until we arrived home. So, now you know the “rest of the story.”
I’m 3rd from left, Scott is about 7 more people over.
My apologies for a long post. Thanks for hanging in there with me today 🙂 Oh, and if you just can’t get enough Pope news, check out this blog for even more!