John Paul II’s Feast (Part Three)

After riposo, we had to tackle the predicament of what to wear to our concert with the Holy Father.  As I mentioned, the tickets for the concert indicated “abito scuro,” which means “dark dress.”  In some instances it can mean black tie, but it usually indicates a step down from black tie.  Men should be in a dark suit and tie, women should be “smartly dressed” in dark attire.

Well, I definitely hadn’t come prepared for that.  I pride myself in packing well for Rome and only taking what is necessary.  So I hadn’t thrown in a single dress- only skirts and cardigans and things that could be worn multiple times in multiple combinations.  Rats. I’m not sure what I was thinking, really — what if Msgr. Ganswein would have called us and asked us to come to Mass with the Holy Father?  Why didn’t I throw in at least a semi-nice black dress?

I had a bit of a dilemma.  I had a dark brown skirt.  Should I wear my dark brown skirt with the white cardigan that matched and violate the dark dress rule, but buy a dark scarf on the way to the concert so that I could cover up the violation a bit?  Or should I wear my black cardigan with my brown skirt — something I wouldn’t do in the States– but at least I would be dressed “dark”?

It’s not hard to guess what I did… I wore the black cardigan.  And boy, I’m glad I did.  I still bought a scarf on the way, and I’m glad I did that, too.   It dressed up the outfit a bit.  Megan had a nice black dress that she wore, so we decided we were set.

Before we set off on our adventure, I called Mom to wish her a happy feast.   After the evening was over, I called Sister Mary Grace, too.  I was really thankful that I put Skype on my phone so I could call everyone so easily.  Technology really is amazing.  No more going to tabacchi shops and trying to figure out which phone card to buy!  (Um, I just looked at an old post and saw that I already mentioned I was thankful for Skype.  Oh well, I’ll say it again.  Yay, Skype!)

We took the bus up the river to St. Peters and headed over to Via di Porta Angelica to check out the scarves.  I think I bargained with the guy (I don’t remember, but I can’t imagine not bargaining.  I know I did later) and I bought a pretty silky-ish dark purple scarf with embroidered pink flowers.  I tied it around my neck and we set off to wait in the security line.

They were parking cars in St. Peter’s Square, which I always find so weird.  I guess there really isn’t any other place to park, but it seems like such a banal use of such a beautiful space.  Everyone was lining up on the other side of the colonnade, outside of the building that houses the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  It’s the same place we would line up the next day for the canonization Mass.  Tonight, though, instead of going through the metal detectors under the colonnade and heading into the Square, we went through the metal detectors then headed back out of the colonnade and past the Swiss guards, into Vatican City at the Sant’Uffizio entrance and up to the Paul VI Hall.

As we waited in line, we noted that we were a tad under-dressed compared to the wealthy Germans around us.  We didn’t stick out that much, though, because there were other young adults (they appeared to be German college kids studying abroad) in front of us that were dressed at about the same level of dressiness as we were.  Just before they began letting us through security, some people came that were really under-dressed, so I felt a little better.

Interestingly enough, if we did stick out, it was because we had bare legs.  I half-wished I had already purchased my boots, or at least had brought stockings with me.  Everyone was in stockings — especially nude ones.  I’m not sure why everyone was giving the Duchess of Cambridge such a hard time about wearing nude stockings, because everyone over there was wearing them.  I suppose it could be because of her, but I sort of find that hard to believe.

Anyway, enough about that.  The security line opened and we made our way in.  The nice thing about seeing the Holy Father in these circumstances (with dressed-up wealthy older people) was that there was no shoving or running.  We all made our way into the hall in an orderly and seemly manner.  The Swiss Guards looked at our tickets and showed us where to go.  There was a certain color ticket that sat in the front half of the hall, and our color ticket was for the back half of the hall.  Other than that, though, we could sit pretty much wherever we wanted.  If you’ve ever been to a Papal event, you know that the main aisle seats are the most desirable.  So instead of sitting in the front row of the second half, Megan and I headed to 10th or 11th row, right on the middle aisle.

We had a pretty nice view of a chair that just happened to be positioned in the middle of the hall.  We were about 10 or 12 yards behind it.  In Vatican City, when something is white, it means one thing… : )

We ended up having pretty sweet seats (unless you count the chairs next to the Holy Father’s, which ended up being occupied by Cardinals on the right and important Germans on the left), because no one sat in front of us.  In the second section of the hall, there was the barrier that separated us from the main cross aisle section where the Holy Father sat, then 5 or 6 rows, and then a sort of mini-cross-aisle that led to a glass door/gate that led into the main aisle, and then we were in the second row of chairs after that.  Well, there was something wrong with the glass door/gate and it wouldn’t lock shut, and so after we sat down, the guards came over and reserved the two seats right in front of Megan and I (the first row of that section) so that no one was sitting next to the gate, I guess.   They wrote reserved on the inside cover of the program on the seats (we all had nice glossy programs on our chairs) and then sort of motioned for us to watch the seats.  So Megan and I had no one in front of us, and then the nice little cross aisle area — and since the floor of the whole hall slopes down, that meant we had a pretty nice view of everything — including that important white chair.

We had a lot of time before the concert began, and while I had brought along postcards to write, we ended up passing the time people-watching.

We saw familiar faces– well, familiar faces if you’re used to watching Papal events.  I recognized this monsignor from various events, both on TV and when I was last in Rome:

He was milling around, telling people where to go and what to do.  It was fun to watch everyone get ready for the Holy Father.  We watched the monsignor and could tell when the Holy Father was about to arrive, based on his demeanor and hand gestures.  There were a handful of guards that were sitting and walking around near us, so the next day when we saw them again, we recognized them right away.  It was funny to recognize them (who recognizes Vatican security guards?!) and I began to think of them as “our guards.” : )

The orchestra and choir came in, but for once, they weren’t the most anticipated arrival!  We watched the monsignor and he seemed to be saying that the Holy Father was running late (the Italians must really be rubbing off on him, haha!)  At ten ’til six (five minutes late) it became clear he was in the building.  The Swiss Guards were at attention, the doors were closed, and there was excitement in the air!  In my journal, I noted that we were watching “Mom’s favorite emcee,” to see when the Holy Father was arriving, but I honestly don’t remember watching him, I remember the emcee priest in the picture above.  (Maybe the wine with dinner interfered in my journal-writing.)

Everyone seemed to expect the Holy Father to come in the back door of the hall and walk up the main aisle to his chair.  I hoped that’s what he would do, but I had been to enough audiences and gatherings in that hall where everyone expected that… and then the Holy Father would come out on the stage in front.  It was always quite comical — everyone would be craning their necks to see when the curtain the back would move and the Holy Father would emerge — and he’d be halfway across the front stage before everyone realized he had fooled them.  I always thought I could see a little chuckle and gleam in the Holy Father’s eye when that would happen…

So while I assumed, like everyone else, that he would come in the back, I didn’t want to get my hopes up.  I had been to a concert in the Paul VI Hall with Pope Benedict in 2008 (Mozart’s Requiem), and he had come in the back door… but that didn’t really mean anything.  I was minimizing my expectations.

Well, he didn’t sneak up on us!  The curtain moved, there were gasps, and there he was, walking down the aisle toward us!

I honestly can’t describe what it’s like to see him — especially to see him for the first time, or even to see him for the first time in awhile.  It had been three years since I had seen him in person, and my breath was taken away almost like I had never seen him before.   He’s so simple, and short, and smiley … and yet there’s this presence there that causes you to smile and weep, all at the same time.  He’s there, and you don’t know what to do– he’s just there, right there, and you suddenly feel very little and very significant all at the same time.

He came right down the middle aisle, taking his time, shaking hands.  He shook the hands of the Sisters across the aisle from Megan and I, but it was okay — just to be that close to him (two feet?  three feet?) was good enough.

I wonder if he gets sick of it all.  Maybe he just wants to walk into a room and sit down and have no one notice him.  Instead he has to endure everyone looking at him, people reaching out to touch him, people shoving other people.  (Although, again, this crowd was remarkably non-violent.)  “Hello, people.  I’m just here to listen to Bruckner’s 9th Symphony.  What are you looking at?”

He sat down in the white chair, Msgr. Ganswein sat at his left, and we were ready to begin!

My BFFs:

It was such a beautiful evening– all of us enjoying the same concert, the same beautiful music.

First they played Anton Bruckner’s Te Deum and then they played Bruckner’s 9th Symphony (it’s obviously very long, so that link is to my favorite part of the 1st movement)

The Holy Father was smart enough not to clap in between movements of the symphony. I was watching his elbow and noticed he wasn’t clapping, so I sort of wondered if he had fallen asleep.  Then afterwards it dawned on me — he’s cultured and not a hunyuck like those of us that clapped between the movements.  Whoops.

Several times during the night I felt myself being watched.

hey, what are you looking at? : )

That’s one of our guard “friends.”  Maybe he didn’t trust me sitting next to that broken gate?

In the middle of the concert, someone behind us and to the left had a medical emergency — we don’t know what happened, but there was commotion and then suddenly you could hear them removing the chairs from the floor (in the Paul VI hall, the chairs are all on pipes — a single pipe (instead of four legs) that goes right into the floor.  When you’re craving personal space and you’re sick of papal events when people are pushing chairs around, these affixed chairs are practically heavenly.  I didn’t know they could be removed from the floor until that night).  Within minutes, there was a medical team with a stretcher — it was incredible how fast it all happened.  During this time and for some time afterward, the guard sitting across the aisle from me was watching it all, and since I was right in his line of vision, it seemed as though he was just staring at me.  Even before and after the incident, I would occasionally look over and find his eyes glued on me.  I’m sure he was watching our whole entire section, but it was a bit unnerving to look over and find him just staring at me.  (I saw him the next day and felt a particular connection to him.  I wonder if he felt it too.)

After the concert, the Holy Father went up to greet the conductor and the soloists and to thank everyone, and then he gave a nice little address on Bruckner, music, etc.

Here he is leaving his chair to walk up to the front — you can see me on the very left-hand side.  On the computers at the Vatican photo shop (that’s a story for another post), you could see me better and I have the goofiest smile in the world on my face.  That’s what I look like in most pictures with the Holy Father. : )  (See the glass door/gate in the wall, right there in front of me?)

Pope’s address:

Then he returned to his chair and all the important people present got to go shake his hand and talk to him for a few seconds.  Megan and I held firm to our spot on the middle aisle railing and waited.

He walked right past us again when he left, but he shook hands across the aisle again!  But that’s okay.  It was neat to see the reactions of the people who got to shake his hand after he had passed.  It was definitely a moment in their lives they’ll never forget.

Hey, look — I know those people!

We were on cloud nine when we left — we practically floated out into the piazza outside the Paul VI hall.  I think we could have stayed in the Vatican all night!

We realized we were hungry, so we left Vatican City (they would have kicked us out eventually, I suppose) and walked over to Cantina Tirolese, a fantastic German restaurant that Cardinal Ratzinger frequented.  They even have his table marked.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have reservations, so there was no way we were getting in to eat that night!  So we wandered back to Borgo Pio, where there are a lot of nice little restaurants — but also some huge tourist traps, so I knew we had to be careful.

There was one that we had seen earlier (I honestly forget the name) and they had a few magazine articles in the front window that spoke of “Roberto” … Mom and I had read an article before the conclave in 2005 where the writer went to his favorite restaurant and asked the owner Roberto who he thought would be the next Pope.   Mom and I have talked about this article a lot (Roberto said he hoped the next Pope would be a certain cardinal (he named him, but the writer didn’t) who had made his home in the area and who the Italians loved like a native… we assume it was Ratzinger), so it was fun to finally find the restaurant.  So when Megan and I wandered back to Borgo Pio, we saw that place again and decided to give it a try.

It was delicious, although I forgot to write in my journal what I ate. : (

After a trip to Old Bridge for gelato (hazelnut and chocolate for me), it was a walk through St. Peter’s Square (stopping to linger under his window), then a bus ride home.  After calling Sister Mary Grace to wish her happy feast, it was bed time.  An early morning awaited us — and Mass with the Pope!

This never gets old.  I love, love, love St. Peter’s at night.  We went there almost every night, just to enjoy this view.  I have a pretty wild daydream (nightdream?) about what the inside of the basilica would be like at night, but since I will probably never know, I’m content just standing in the square for long amounts of time and enjoying the sounds of the fountains.


4 thoughts on “John Paul II’s Feast (Part Three)

  1. Amy says:

    Your Rome posts are NOT too long! This was such an amazing opportunity for you…to enjoy a concert with the Holy Father. Thanks for sharing about it! And no, St. Peter’s at night (or any time, really) never gets old.

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