NOTE TO READERS: The Rome 2014 trip begins with post #30. Posts #10—29 were Rome 2013. Posts 1–9 were Florence 2011. If you'd like to be notified of new postings by email, let me know at

Sunday, March 24, 2013

#23—Habemus Papem...sort of

Palm Sunday. Quando a Roma, si deve fare come i romani.
or something like that.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

The Vatican announced on the internet that the Pope would be offering blessings at 9:30 a.m. Having gone to bed around 2, I got up at 8 and prepared to join the crowd. This amounted to drinking only a small cup of coffee. I figured that the last thing you would want is to have to pee while standing in the middle of a hundred thousand people.

So off I went, bundled up for the chilly morning. Except an hour later the sun came out. The legendary Roman sun. Also by that time, the modest crowd had turned into a throng behind me. You may have seen me...I was about thirty yards from that big the right of it facing the basilica...and about six rows back from the fence separating those standing from those who somehow got seats.

After an hour of the massive sound system fading and rising, they seemed to get things under control. There was a kind of pause in the religious proceedings going on far in the distance on the steps of the basilica (see below). All of a sudden organ music blasted across the Square like something from the beginning of a Bela Lugosi movie.
Ah, at last, it was time for the Pope to come out on the balcony. I watched the curtained door for il Papa. Nope, no Papa. The proceedings on the steps continued.

After about two hours, it seemed that the mass should be winding up...when all of a sudden three priestly looking men got up and began telling the story of The Last Supper. Now I'm seeing this from afar. Or rather I'm not seeing it...except on the occasional moments when I get a glimpse of one of the large TV screens to the left and right of the Basilica.

The story of the Last Supper gave way to the denial of Christ by Peter and the betrayal by Judas. Hey, wait, this is Palm Sunday. They were getting ahead of themselves. While I was impressed that I could follow the Italian, I suddenly began feeling a bit dizzy from the heat and dehydration. I became panicky that I would turn into an emergenza. I remembered the temptations of Jesus and all the saints and tried to ignore the fountain...the large gushing fountain...the sound and sight of water...lovely darling close yet so far.

Finally, the stories ended...I watched the famed balcony for a hint of the white-robed blessing. But then a gentle voice began delivering what had the sound of a potentially long homily about living in the way of Jesus and experiencing the joys of that way. He had to be kidding. I was shriveling up out there in the sun. Where the hell was the Pope? I glimpsed the TV...OMG, it was Il Papa delivering the homily. My bad.

A man's cellphone began ringing. Rispetta. Rispetta! came the demands for respect. A woman in an orange scarf began trying to work her way to the metal gate holding us back from the favored crowd near Papa Francesco. This set the nearby crowd aflame, which only aggravated the woman more...words began flying...until a motherly looking woman spoke quietly to her...all I could hear was the word tranquillo...the woman with the orange scarf settled down.

To my right, a tiny ancient woman in a fur coat began turning white and fanning herself. She needed air. Her daughter began looking around for a way out that did not exist. The crowd, full of charity, parted willingly to let the old woman and her daughter up to the metal barrier where she could see and get a breath. Now, it's not very Christian of me, but I began to wonder if the brisk manner in which the two moved through the crowd might have suggested duplicity.

I did notice on my way to the Square a stooped beggar woman in threadbare black garments...a heartbreaking sight indeed until I turned around and glimpsed the good-looking high-heeled boots under her mourning garment.

So anyway, as the religious proceedings began winding down with those involved processing off the steps, I figured Papa Franceso would dash up on an elevator to wave us all a blessing from the balcony. Suddenly, people all around me began lifting their arms, waving their palms...all I could see by standing on my toes and peering through was a string of priests making their way around the perimeters of the crowd. The priests were shaded from the ungodly sun by men in crisp black suits carrying large yellow and white umbrellas. By this time I was beginning to mutter bad words to myself because I was caught in a terrifying crush of people and being claustrophobic began to feel a panic attack coming on. What was happening...oh, communion for those who could reach out beyond the metal barrier. Was this some kind of sadistic joke on those beyond reach....

For one like myself who finds holiness in stillness and quiet reflection of the natural world, the fervor was disquieting. Still, I thought how glorious to be swept away by such faith.

Even so, I decided to us all my inner resources and past experiences of moving against the crowd to exit the crush. Finally, I made it past the worst of it. But then I was really ticked off because Papa Franceso had hopped on the Popemobile and was moving through the crowd right past the metal barrier where I'd started the morning.

I followed his course around the square by watching the pointing of cameras up in the air. As he came directly in front of me, a small child behind me on her mother's shoulders began to shout, "Papa! Papa!" The crowd swept forward, as if drawn by a magnet. Even the police abandoned their posts. This was Big.

This is what I saw:

This is what I had waited for three hours to see. I suddenly felt obsessed by the need to see the Pope. I'd invested an entire morning. But then in a flash of insight that I'm sure was as bright as the one Paul saw on his way to Damascus, I realized that my obsession was idiotic.

So off I walked, freeing myself from the inferno. And looking up, this is what I saw: The Pope in his Popemobile on the big TV screen on the street leadiing into Saint Peter's Square: la Via della Concilazione. The Way of Consolation.

I will not be repeating this experience for Easter. It could take until then to resurrect myself from heat exhaustion and dehydration. I think instead I will go across town to Santa Cecilia and turn my thoughts to what I will do when I get home from this grand adventure. The anti Christians cut off Cecilia's head for what she believed. What would I be willing to give up my head for...or perhaps just some of my time.

Meanwhile, I'm off for my real consolation of the day.
Stay tuned for a picture.

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