An open-letter to the Catholic School educators of my past

Thank you. Thank you for the ups and the downs, for the sacrifices to your bank account, for putting up with us and for letting us be kids. Thank you for teaching us to work in community, to listen to someone other than our parents, and for witnessing in small ways to the Christian life. Thank you for what you do.

This morning I went to the All Schools’ Mass with the Bishop for Catholic Schools Week. Since we have so many Catholic schools in the diocese, a few students are chosen from each grade to represent their school and accompany their principal and pastors to the Mass.

After Communion, the choir (made up of kids from the three high schools) were singing a beautiful meditation, and I had to struggle to keep back the tears.  Back came the memories of my days in high school choir.  Back came the memories of “Sharing Day,” the Wednesday of Catholic Schools Week when all our schools would gather together for Mass, too.  Back came memories from 21 years of Catholic education – from preschool to graduate school.

I thought of the teachers, the principals, the friends, the moms and dads of friends, the field trips, the school plays, the All School Masses, the recesses, the classes, the times that stretched me and the times that gave me joy.

You know what?  It wasn’t perfect. I had some not-so-great teachers, I had some not-so-great classmates.  There were even days I cried knowing I’d have to go back to school the next day. It was no walk in the park, those years of Catholic high school.  Even elementary and middle school had its ups and downs.

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Sure, I would have liked it to be more Catholic at times. Yes, I would have asked that there was less bullying. I could have had more rigorous education at times.  It wasn’t perfect by any means.  If I was going to write the story of my years of school, there are definite experiences I would have spared myself from, and chapters I would have written differently.

But I survived. And I am who I am today because of the ups and the downs, the joys and the crosses, the good times and the bad.  I’ll be eternally grateful to my parents, who navigated those seas – rocky at times, calm at times – and helped me keep my Faith. There are many of my classmates who have not fared so well.

My years in Catholic schools are like any experience in life. You take the good and celebrate it, and you take the bad and you grow from it.  I know that everyone has their own decision to make for their own families, but I will forever be grateful that my parents didn’t listen to me in sixth grade when I begged to be homeschooled.  I needed those years of growth.  I needed those friends.  Who knows, maybe I needed to be a witness to someone, somewhere.

Perhaps this sounds like a rather back-handed compliment to my Catholic education.  It’s not intended that way.  I am honestly grateful for the memories and the experiences those years in the Lafayette Catholic School system gave me. The growth hasn’t stopped – I am still learning, still figuring out this whole life thing. I suppose the continued growth is why I can look back at those years and be grateful – even for the tough times.

I realized with some horror, as I looked around at the kids at Mass, that they thought I was a grownup. I’m as old as some of their teachers – perhaps even some of their parents! And as I looked at them – from the little bitty kindergartners to the seniors in high school– I wanted to tell them it was all worth it.  Thank your teachers. Thank your principals. Thank your parents.  It’s all going to be just fine.

 

A Hero for Truth

My platform when running for senior class president was simple: a senior class trip and a good commencement speaker. The first was a no-brainer — the traditional 5th grade camping trip had been cancelled for my class after the class ahead of us had been too wild, and our 8th grade class trip was substituted with a different junior high trip that not everyone had attended.  So we felt deprived, and by senior year it was an easy deprivation to capitalize on.  The commmencement speaker was my own beef – our school traditionally had an outside speaker, and I felt like the commencement speaker could be good — probably give us better advice than the last four years of high school combined — and I wasn’t going to phone it in.

During the last few years of high school, I read the Notre Dame student newspaper almost religiously.  Among other things, one effect of this was that I became more familiar with law professor Charles Rice, who wrote for the paper frequently.  After he wrote a particuarly captivating article about just war theory (my senior year witnessed the terrorist attacks of 9-11), I invited him to be our commencement speaker.

I forget exactly how it all went down, but I know I wrote him a real letter, on paper, with an envelope and a stamp (!), and then at some point in the correspondence he casually gave me his home phone number and told me to call.

Just like that. Give him a call. Charlie Rice.  To put it in perspective, I actually took a fan-girl picture outside his office door the summer previously.  And now I was going to nonchalantly call him up on the phone.

To make a long story short, he ended up coming down for commencement – and not only for commencement, but joined my family at Mass that Sunday morning and went out to breakfast with us before the commencement exercises.

Scan 1

I don’t remember much of what he said, but I do remember everyone listening, even my classmates… who could be lame at times.  You know why we listened?  Because he wasn’t there for himself. He had no agenda and he came with no pretense. He knew his audience – a bunch of seniors who wanted to grab the diplomas and leave high school forever, who didn’t know who he was and didn’t care.  But he didn’t let that bother him.  He spoke to us like we were real people.  He spoke to us like we mattered.  And I’ll never forget his humility, his humor, and his authenticity.  He was a man without guile.

Yesterday morning, Professor Rice went to his eternal reward.  He was a hero for the Catholic Church and for Catholic education.  He believed in the good, the true, and the beautiful.  And he left many, many people — lawyers throughout this country, graduates of Notre Dame, and probably anyone he met — better people for having known him.

There will be many tributes to him in the coming days.  (You should start here.)  But I think there is far more to Charlie Rice that will never be proclaimed.  That’s just seems like the kind of guy he was.  The quiet humility of a man of God, who mourned the passing of a great university but never threw in the towel, who lamented the state of our culture but never despaired the existence of the good.

So perhaps tonight, we should all curl up with 50 Questions on the Natural Law: What it is and Why we Need it and thank God there have been men like Charlie Rice in this world.

Thanks for the memories.

The year was 1993.  My mom’s whole side of the family was having a giant Thanksgiving dinner, all 40+ of us (we had even rented out a school cafeteria for the occasion), and my aunt brought a cute new boyfriend.  Jeff Gordon.

My brother thought it was funny that his name was Jeff Gordon, although it was all lost on me.  “Why?  Who’s Jeff Gordon?” I remember asking him in the kitchen.

It wasn’t the same Jeff Gordon, of course, although this Jeff Gordon did work in racing, but the only racing I knew – IndyCar racing.  He later took us to the shop and I got to sit in Al Unser Jr’s race car.  A pretty big deal for a little girl from Indiana.  The Jeff Gordon my brother was telling me about was apparently an up-and-coming driver in something he called NASCAR.

Growing up in Indiana, with both sets of grandparents living less than 3 miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, racing was bound to be part of my childhood.  I remember standing in my grandparents’ front yard in May and hearing the roar of engines during practice. And I remember when NASCAR was going to start racing on the venerable oval – the year after that memorable Thanksgiving.

While I can’t put my finger on it, a love for NASCAR was eventually born in me.  Whether it was because I was in that phase of life where everything my brother did was cool (oh wait, it’s a phase? Hm…) or because I wanted something to love that was unique and different from my peers, I began following NASCAR in junior high and high school.  My driver?  Jeff Gordon, of course.

Eventually that love was made permanent when my dad took me to my first NASCAR race: the 2000 Daytona 500.  We would return the following year, where we would witness one of the most tragic deaths in sports history.

My college roommate shared my love (we were the only two girls to put “NASCAR” as a hobby on our roommate placement survey), although not my driver… but even though her driver was Tony Stewart, we managed to overcome differences and remain friends to this day.

I know it’s an enigma to people.  In college, I was that preppy girl who wore argyle socks and cardigans. But I was also the girl who tailgated in the back of a pickup truck, with a George Foreman and rootbeer, before going inside to watch the Daytona 500 on TV.  In grad school, when working for Scott Hahn, one of my coworkers mentioned NASCAR in passing, and the new guy didn’t realize I was a fan.  (I was probably wearing an argyle sweater that day.)  Chris repeated himself.   “Yeah.  Joannie’s a NASCAR fan.”  Matt burst out laughing.  A big laugh.

“Joannie?  A NASCAR fan?  That’s a good one!”

Silence.

“She really is!?”

I really am.

All this to say… it was shocking to hear the breaking news on the radio today- news that even took the hosts of NASCAR’s Morning Drive by surprise.  (yes, I listen to NASCAR talk radio every morning.)  Jeff Gordon will be racing his final season this year.  It was an announcement bound to happen eventually, but I’d wager few – if any- would have bet it would come today.

Before Jeff Gordon, 20 year-olds didn’t race with the big boys.  Especially not pretty boy 20 year-olds.  He changed the sport forever, and I’m part of that change.  He brought NASCAR to a whole different audience– an audience that includes me.  When I started watching NASCAR, I couldn’t keep Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett straight. But there was something in that young driver with his rainbow car that made me start to watch and listen and research and follow.  And for that I’m thankful.

IMG_3463

 

 

Feverish gratitude (20 years late?)

In honor of the way my 31st year has begun, I give you my thoughts from Monday, written in the middle of the flu.

For a moment you feel okay, and you think maybe you aren’t really as sick as you thought you were. Then the chills come, and you brace yourself for the pain they bring as they run up and down and up your body like Rachmaninoff playing scales.

And you want your mom.

There’s something about a mom that nothing else can replace. My friends are wonderful– picking up my prescription and getting me chicken soup. But a mom…

Right now I’m alone and the remote control is so far away. That wouldn’t have happened twenty years ago. It would be next to me. It’s so hard to lift my head to drink fluids. Twenty years ago, Mom would have somehow produced a straw from the kitchen cabinet.

I don’t know what I would do if I had children. I can barely move, much less take care of another living being. While my friends may lament not being married with kids… Right now I lament not being 11.

Back Home Again

Some things are worth sacrifices.  But when the sacrifice is over, you don’t sit around thinking, “Gee, I wish I was still sacrificing.”  It doesn’t mean that you would change anything about the past, or even that you hated every minute of the sacrifice.  It was worth it, but now there’s a new phase of life and you’re okay with that.

For the past six years, I had the joy and honor to teach almost every Saturday from mid-February to mid-May and mid-August to mid-November.  It was worth sacrificing my Saturdays (and about half of my Fridays) to have the opportunity to preach the Gospel and share the joy of Jesus Christ with over a thousand people.

It was a joy, but it’s also a joy to have my Saturdays back.  One of the first things I planned?  A road trip to Notre Dame.

Two weeks ago, three guys and I piled in my friend Matt’s Jeep early Friday morning to make the trip to the beautiful state of Indiana.  It was harvest time, the trees were changing, and I was goin’ back to Indiana.

It was fun to show Mario and Father my old stomping grounds —  our first stop was my home parish, St. Boniface.  The church was unlocked and it was just good to be home again. As we were leaving, my pastor was driving into the parking lot– such a gift! So we got to chat with him and then I had the guts to ask him a question about the church that I had wondered since middle school… and he must be turning soft, because he showed me the answer – a secret I didn’t think I would ever be told.  I would be more transparent about it if I didn’t think my middle school classmates would hunt me down and make me tell them, too.  Suffice to say, it was pretty awesome.

Then we went over to the perpetual adoration chapel, which I saw with new eyes, taking guests there.  I had always known it was beautiful, but I think walking into it realizing that most people probably expect a little room tucked in the corner of the hospital… and then you walk into a gorgeous Gothic chapel with incredible statues and beautiful stained glass windows — well, we’re pretty blessed in Lafayette.

steI stole this picture off the internet.  And it doesn’t do the chapel justice.

We didn’t have much time before dinner, so we finished the tour of Lafayette with a stop at the taproom at People’s Brewery.  People’s is an addition to Lafayette after I left home, but I had enjoyed their beer when Mom and Dad bought it, and they usually bring me a six-pack when they visit. So I was looking forward to checking out the taproom.   So that we didn’t have to make decisions, we decided to get two flights, which would include samples of everything they had on tap, and split them.

IMG_9887

The nice guy bringing us our flights described them all, then recommended drinking them from low IBUs to high, so that the hops wouldn’t wreck our palate.  I think my favorite was Belgian Stout, which we couldn’t take home because it’s made with nitrogen and they can’t bottle it.  But we ended up bringing  home the regular IPA and the Red Ale (which I liked because it was named for our local Irish pub).  I was hoping to like their Oktoberfest, because it’s brewed especially for my home parish’s Germanfest, but it just wasn’t my favorite.

IMG_9885Twelve beers.  Enjoy them, but make sure you’re home in time for dinner.

We returned to the homestead for a delicious dinner (thanks, Mom!), and another good friend of mine, Father David, joined us because he knew Father Kevin from seminary.  My nieces were staying with my parents, so it was an extra treat to get to spend time with them, too.  I feel like the guys got a little taste of the family craziness, which is always good.  After dinner we played a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit.  (Dad and the priests won.)

The next morning we woke up bright and early to continue our grand adventure. Father celebrated Mass, Mom made breakfast, and then we hit the Hoosier Heartland to trek up to Notre Dame.  My awesome brother not only got us tickets but also a parking pass, so we parked south of campus and headed to the bookstore.  Since we were parked so close to campus, we could even take our loot back to the car before exploring the rest of campus. It’s the little things that count, you know?

It was fun to show the guys the way my family always celebrated game days.  Steak sandwiches from the Knights of Columbus, prayers at the Basilica and the Grotto, and a fairly new tradition, the trumpets under the Dome.  But it was my first game back on campus since my sister-in-law’s father had passed away, and it was sad not to see him at his tailgate.  I’m sure St. Peter frequents his Notre Dame tailgates these days.

The game was a too much a nail-biter — it made it fun, but I would rather have been bored. : )  But we pulled it off in the end.

IMG_9927

We celebrated the win with another Watson tradition … Bruno’s for dinner after the game!   We didn’t have to wait as long as I thought we would (and I even saw one of my brother’s old friends at the bar).  Then we hit the road to head back to Lafayette, and we all fell asleep in the car. Except Matt. I’m so grateful to Matt and Mario for for driving all weekend.

Sunday we headed back to Tennessee.  A short trip, but packed with old memories and new inside jokes.  So many of my childhood Saturdays were spent on that campus, and it was good to return – and actually witness an Irish win.  (the last game I went to, we lost to Air Force… and the two people I took to the game ended up breaking up a few days later…Eek.  Needless to say, better memories this time around…)

IMG_9902

Let the Music Play

Have you ever had a song that could be the lead song on the soundtrack of a certain moment in your life?  I should start writing them down, because I have so many.  They come on my Pandora station and I am immediately taken back to a certain moment — I can smell the smells, feel in the pit of my stomach the same emotions, good or bad.  When I heard Nickel Creek live this summer, as soon as they began playing songs from their title album, I was taken back to a summer of fun at my friend Annie’s new apartment — long before her four girls, when her husband was still a lovesick college boy with unrequited love for her, when we spent hours sitting on her roof, laughing, singing, writing short stories, goofing off without cares in the world.

Accidentally in Love immediately takes me back to my graduation dance at Christendom, when that boy that I had waited for two years to ask me to dance gave me one of the greatest swing dances of my college career.  That song comes on and I’m a girl on the verge of leaving everything she’s loved for the past four years, already an emotional mess, and that boy comes through the crowd with hand outstretched.  It’s crystal clear, like the closing scene in the movie of my senior year…  minus that happy ending of the boy asking to marry me at the end.  Haha!

This morning I turned on Delta Rae’s If I Loved You, and I was back at their live show at 12th and Porter, wincing at every word of the song as it unraveled in front of me, wishing that my life wasn’t quite so movie-like at times.

If I loved you, life would be easy /
There’d be no truth that I’d be scared of

Yes, that would be lovely, I thought as I stood there with a boy I didn’t love.

But I don’t love you, not like you need it /
I don’t love you, good as you are

Stomach roll.  Why is life so strange?  You are so good… everyone’s going to think I’m crazy when I break it off…

But I don’t love you, much as I want to /
I don’t love you, no, it would be a lie /
And you deserve love, you’re better than a good day /
And you’ll find it, but just not in my eyes

Thank you, Delta Rae.

Good and bad memories, ones that never disappear, thanks to some lyrics and instruments. What will the song from this summer be?  Will it be one of the songs that I’ve had on repeat these days — or will it be one that will surprise me? All I know is that I’ll be sitting in a coffeeshop five years from now and I’ll be brought back to the summer of 2014, the crazy happy times of short-notice cookouts and road trips, the heart wrenching moments when I knelt in the chapel and asked God why He created the human heart the way He did, the strange in-between weeks of transitions and new jobs, the laughs, the tensions, the tears, the annoyances and the joys…

And I’ll be glad that we have the gift of music.

Here’s to the future soundtrack of 2014.

the funeral of a saint

I found a way to cope with my sadness about not being at the canonization.  I will relive the past.

So, without further ado, my email home on Sunday, April 17, 2005, a week after experiencing the funeral of the only Pope I had ever known.  The email is preserved in all its glory, every detail, every !!, for posterity.  No names have been changed to protect the innocent.

 

There are some moments in your life that you will never forget. I came to study in Rome knowing that I would return a different person.  I knew that I would experience things that would change my life forever. But I never expected to experience what I experienced last Thursday and Friday.

Around twenty of my classmates and I left our home in Rome Thursday afternoon around 2:30, equipped with blankets and bread, ready to camp out with the popes.  We knew that our chances of getting into the piazza the next day for the Holy Father’s funeral was slim, as we were competing with millions of people, so we realized we had to get an early start.  It’s not easy to travel around crowds with 20 people, so we soon realized (well, some of us realized and then took charge and ordered everyone else around. I think I’m practicing for when I’m first lady) that we would have to settle down as a group and then have a few people go scout things out and come back and report.  So we parked ourselves on Via Conciliazione, the main road that heads right into St. Peter’s Square.  If we could manage to stay there all night, we had prime spots for the rush the next morning.  But we had no illusions that they would let us stay there all night, since we had heard reports that they were closing the piazza and Via C at 10pm.  So we needed to find out more before we committed ourselves to spots that would be taken from us in 7 hours.  My roommate from freshman year, Marisa White (who’s an amazing girl — the world will hear from her someday, I guarantee – so remember that name) and I went off to investigate.

It didn’t take us long to realize that no one really knew what was going on.  We asked someone from every different military or police unit (“Hey, there’s a guy in a green uniform with a black beret – we haven’t asked someone who looks like that yet!”) and all the guys were more than willing to try their English out on the two of us.  Sorry, guys, we don’t want to talk to you… we just want information.  Which they had none of.  So we dropped them pretty quickly and attempted to get to the Swiss Guards, the official guards of the Vatican.  Our first try was unsuccessful because you needed a special pass to even get over to where they were standing.  So we walked all the way around St. Peter’s and the surrounding streets, make detours when necessary — and stopping to get gelato on the way — and managed to get to the Swiss Guards on the other side, at the Sant’Anna gate.

I wish I could somehow describe the atmosphere and the crowds.  There were people everywhere.  People coming and going from who knows where, pilgrims everywhere with sleeping bags and backpacks, large groups of people sitting and laying on the ground around entrances where they hoped maybe they could get into the piazza in the morning.  But we didn’t want to hope — we wanted to know.  And if we were going to camp out all night, we were going to sit ourselves in a place we were pretty confident about.  So Marisa went and asked to Swiss Guards (now, don’t think we’re Swiss Guard crazy. Okay, I am a little, but Marisa isn’t. M: “Joannie, they’re all either old and fat or short with glasses.” J: “But they know karate to kill!” M: “Joannie, look at them. Look past the uniform.” J: “Well, it IS a nice uniform…” so we were really just going to the Guards to get info, I promise.) and they wouldn’t say if Via C was closing — the piazza was for sure at 1o, but that didn’t really matter because no one was allowed in the piazza except the people standing in line to pay their respects, and that line had been cut off the night before.  But the Swiss Guard said that we seemed to have pretty good spots.  So we returned to the group not really knowing anything more than we had when we started. (but heck, we had fun.)  We were even getting conflicting responses about if the Mass was inside or out!  It was a combination of 1) security reasons keeping everyone either not talking or not knowing and 2) the Italians never really knowing what’s going on anyway.

IMG_1040There were lots of guards on Via C around barricades halfway down the street, but they were pretty much letting everyone come and go around the barricades.  There were also barricades at the very end of the street (far from St. Peter’s) that were a little restricted with their flow, and then there were barricades on the other end, right by St Peter’s Square, that were completely closed.  (This is really hard to try to explain) Via C was split into three aisles. The side aisles were the usual sidewalks of the street with businesses and things.  A lot of businesses stayed open, so people from the group wandered and got gelato and stuff. (most of us had brought food with us — I was armed with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and peanut butter M&Ms (thanks again!) and an apple.)  The middle aisle was what used to be the line to view the body, but now the line was cut off, so we wondered where everyone that was walking up was going… because the road stayed fairly busy with pilgrims, the majority of them Polish.  It turned out that they were all going and camping up closer to the entrance of the piazza, by the barricades that were closed.  The red and white flags continued to joyfully stream past as the Polish joined us with their own blankets and dinner. I have never seen so many Polish flags.  It was amazing.

We passed the time talking and studying and I called Mom from a pay phone. One of the neatest parts of the evening were the priests that wandered through the crowds or sat against buildings with their purple stoles, ready to hear confessions.  The grace that was flowing that afternoon was almost visible.  It was so beautiful!  You got such a sense that these men were truly men of God, ready to do His work at every moment! They could have been doing a hundred other things at that moment — but they were ready to hear confessions.  I have to say, one of the most memorable confessions of my life came that night — I was just standing on Via C talking to the priest — holy cow, it was incredible! That whole night was one of those experiences that seems natural while you’re doing it, and then you pause a second and think, “What in the world?! We did that? That’s amazing!!”  We SLEPT OUTSIDE OF ST.PETER’S!! I went to confession on the street!  It’s mind boggling.  I wish I could describe it.

Around 5 or so — I kind of lost track of time — our president of Christendom, Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, his wife, and our college chaplain, Father Heisler, found us.  They suggested we at least move a little closer to the piazza, so we moved camp a little farther down the road and ended up all gathering around a huge supply of bottled waters — some people even built seats and beds with all the bottled water.  I was really impressed with how prepared Rome was for this.  They had bottled water out the wazoo.  They only problem was that it was all bubbly water.  Marisa and I were offered water when we were wandering around, and we asked if they had any “natural” and the guy said no, but then his assistant and yes and pulled two non-bubbly bottles out of nowhere — but then as we were walking away the guy started getting mad at her — haha, we think she probably gave us his water! 🙂

We were also camped out right near a first-aid type station, which was really nice because they had tons of blankets for everyone, and they kept passing them out — since we were right there next to them, every once and while the nun would come over (she didn’t speak any English) and just cover up the guys while they were sleeping and stuff.  It was so cute!

IMG_1048

So the O’Donnells and Father Heisler talked to us for a long time, then left to go find dinner — Mrs. O’Donnell was convincing Dr. O’Donnell to stay all night, so she had to keep him busy and moving all the time so he wouldn’t get fed up and leave!  They suggested we go find their son, Niall, who was camped out on the other side of the colonnade of St. Peter’s.  So we sent two people, Maris and John O’Herron, to go scout things out before we moved.

As a side note, the O’Donnells were SO nice to us.  He’s on the Pontifical Council for the Family, so needless to say, they had a lot of other things they could be doing and a lot of other people they could be seeing. But they took time out to come visit us and make sure we were okay.  It was unlike anything a larger university would ever experience. Your president and his wife try to get to know you by name and seek you out to make sure you’re okay? And then after dinner they came back and brought us cookies! It was SO sweet. They came back three times throughout the night (once at around 2 or 3 and they woke me up – it was cute.)

Well, we waited for awhile for John and Marisa, and we were sending Peter to go find them when he came back with the report that now Via C was blocked off and no one could get on it.. so that meant John and Marisa were stuck outside.  We were in the middle of a huge elaborate plan which included Peter leaving and somehow bribing the guard with a cigarette to let him back in (you have to understanding how Italian police work) when Marisa and John appeared out of breath … they had snuck back in one gate, then ran and pleaded with other guards to make it back to us.  So we decided to stay where we were — if they let us stay, we were in an even better spot since we were ahead of all the other crowds.  The only other people left on Via C were us, hundreds of Polish pilgrims now sleeping in rows, some American seminarians, and journalists, who had access to the road all night.

As the evening wore on, we passed the time studying, sleeping, and getting interviewed by several radio and television stations.  The road became fairly deserted and we wrapped up in our blankets to keep warm.  IMG_1052While one wouldn’t usually call a concrete stretch of a thousand Polish pilgrims, a handful of American college students, and a hundred roaming reporters “deserted,” it was empty compared to the other side of the barricades at the end of the road, where pilgrims continued to gather.  Throughout the night, we were reports that the line was stretching for kilometers.

There were several hilarious episodes through the night, memories I’ll never forget, but a particularly funny one happened because of my obsession with Shepard Smith.  I really wanted to meet him, since he’s my favorite Fox newscaster, and I knew he was around the Vatican somewhere.  John O’Herron had been wandering around up Via C by the Polish pilgrims and came back and told me he saw a Fox guy — he thought maybe a local guy from DC.  So he went with me so I could ask the guy where Shepard Smith was (by this time, my obsession had become the joke of the group).  Well, he said he didn’t want to be interviewed because he had botched his last interview a few days earlier (to be an American in Rome during these times means you get interviewed constantly.  It’s crazy.) so I had to go talk to them instead.  Well, I chickened out.  When I returned to the group, Marisa got mad and said I had to do it.  So she went back with me, and I went and asked the guy if he was from Fox, blah blah blah.  It turns out that he was from the DC Fox station, and he got really excited (he was a spastic fellow) when he heard we went to school in VA, and asked if there was anyone in our group from VA.  So me, being the devious person I am, told him that we had a guy from VA — John O’Herron.  He said he would catch up with us later, when he found his cameraman (he was lugging his own camera around – it was pretty funny) and we went back and told John he was going to interview him, and John freaked out and went off by himself to get himself ready for it.  What made matters worse was that John and his family actually watch their local Fox station at night for the very purpose of making fun of the “googly” news guys … and once we talked to this guy, we could see why — he was crazy!! … so it was pretty hard for him to get through the interview without laughing and without us cracking up… but he did it, and he did a very good job.  Then he called home and told his family to make sure and watch the “googly” news because he would be on.IMG_1054

The night wore on … I slept a little, got interviewed by a German radio station and a Boston TV station … we talked with the North American seminarians who were camping near us … it was a pretty fun night.  Dr. O’Donnell and his wife came back — they camped out all night, too! : )  There were a few false alarms — “I think they’re opening the piazza!” so we’d pack up our stuff and head up there, only to find no sign of them opening the piazza anytime soon.

We headed up to stand in line by the gates around 6, I think, so by the time the sun rose we were lined up with our Polish friends and a few American seminarians, waiting for the piazza  to open.  Before the piazza opened, however, the barricades at the end of the road opened, and more pilgrims — the majority Polish — began to stream onto Via C to join us in the wait. We were released around seven o’clock, and people started to head toward the piazza.  We were reluctant to leave our spots near the barricades on Via C, though, because we were right by huge televisions and there was no indication whether people were actually being allowed into the piazza, or just around it.  There were rumors that due to security, people wouldn’t be let in the actual piazza, and when we asked a guard as everyone was streaming in, he told us they weren’t letting people in the piazza at all, just around it.  So we waited by our TVs, because we knew if we weren’t allowed in the piazza there was no way we were going to see the TVs in the piazza and we wouldn’t really know what was going on.  Eventually, though, my friend Andy went and scoped things out, and he saw they were letting people in — so we headed up there.  So if you watched TV and were surprised there weren’t more people in the pizza, that’s why — thousands of people were told they weren’t even being let into the piazza, so they didn’t want to leave Via C with the TV screens, and it was impossible to tell from Via C if the piazza was open or not — it’s hard to comprehend, but everything is so mammoth and far away that while Via C and St. Peter’s look close, they aren’t.  So it’s really hard to tell what’s going on, even though it’s right in front of you, because it’s actually pretty far away.

The last part of that paragraph was a horror in grammar, but I’ll continue.  IMG_1071I’m sure most of you saw the funeral or clips of it on TV.  I don’t need to say that it was one of the most moving experiences of my life.  Plus, not only was I blessed to be in the piazza for the Holy Father’s funeral, I was blessed to be able to experience it while being surrounded by people from Wadowice, the Holy Father’s hometown.  While the entire piazza was filled with the Holy Father’s countrymen, the people that surrounded me were truly his people.  I will always remember how joyful his people were.  They cried and grieved, but they rejoiced, knowing their friend had followed Christ and had fought the good fight.  When we clapped for the Holy Father at the end of Mass, their clapping drowned out the helicopters that hovered overhead.  I will never forget those people. They had hitchhiked to Rome, slept on the concrete, and afterward, stood in the rain.  They were there to say thank you to a man that was a son of their country and a father to the world.

IMG_1089

The image of the pall-bearers when they turned and lifted his coffin up for all to see before they went inside will be forever burned into my mind.  It was amazing.

IMG_1095

Tomorrow, the conclave begins, and we begin our vigil in the square, awaiting the white smoke.  Most of the pilgrims have left the city, and the Church will pause until the Holy Spirit will make the new pope known.  As I walked through the Square the day after the funeral, I was initially surprised that nothing seemed different.  There was no physical change since the Holy Father passed away except that the shutters to his bedroom window remained closed.  It reminded me, however, that the Church continues.  We said goodbye to a Holy Father that history will never forget, but the Church’s invisible head — Christ — is still with His Bride.  I haven’t been down to see the Holy Father’s tomb yet because the lines are still very, very long.  But I’ll make it down there soon.

I wish I had a cell phone and could start calling people the minute the smoke appeared!  Such exciting times… it’s hard to write down.  IT’s hard to even speak about.  All the experiences have been so intimate and personal, that they’re hard to talk about.  Not that I don’t WANT to talk about them, but they’re impossible to talk about because they’re impossible to voice or understand unless you experienced them.  But I continue to try.

[Apparently I did.  Did anyone actually get through those 3,000 words?]