Thursday, April 25, 2013

A morning with the Pope

Much as I really loved all that gelato in Florence, the most dramatic day of my time in Italy was when we were taken to a Papal Audience in St. Peter's Square in Rome for - if not the first, then one of the first - with the newly-elected Pope Francis I.  The question of the hour: would our choir be invited to sing, or would it not? and for me: did I have the personal fortitude to survive the crowds and the waiting?

Coincidentally that was the only day I missed knitting at all (and I missed it a lot).  Wouldn't it be nice if I'd had pictures of knitting to include with this post?  But I knew better than to try getting sock needles past the security barrier.

I also know better than to think you will all be endlessly (or even remotely) fascinated by the day, so feel free to blow a kiss and drop back in tomorrow when I'll have either knitting or some seriously gorgeous garden-y fountains to show you.

Now, we did get over to St. Peter's Square on the previous Sunday, because the choir we were accompanying was singing at mass there.  We had to be there very early in the morning because crowds were anticipated.  Thanks to our early arrival the crowds looked sort of like this:

When we reached the front of the Basilica, I took this picture of what stands at the top end of the Square, guessing that the tenty thing was probably a/ where the Pope sits when receiving guests and b/ as close as I was likely to be to him, including the three days ahead.

St. Peter's itself?

It's a little imposing.

And rather enormous inside, too.  The choir sang as beautifully as ever - truly, it was just incredible to hear them singing in there - and afterward when I ran into one of the teen-aged choristers I asked him how it was to sing in St. Peter's in Rome.  Was it, like, Zing????  He told me there is about a 10-second echo to account for, which took some getting used to.  (I really love these people, and I can only imagine what it is like to perform often enough in amazing venues to be unflustered by singing in all these once-in-a-lifetime places.)  Then he told me how impressed he was with St. Peter's own choir, with which I could wholeheartedly agree.  They were fabulous. 

Coming out of mass, the Square looked - and sounded - rather different than it did in the morning.  By which I mean: full - seriously full - of people.  Turned out that Papa Francesco was giving an address to the crowd there from a window above, and their surging voices were like a wave of abiding love that rushed all the way up to the steps of the Basilica.

I'm sorry to say my first thought about this was:

Oh dear.  We are in for it.

And as I feared, here is what greeted us when we arrived at St. Peter's a little after 7:30 on Wednesday morning:

This is the very back of the line... for the security gates.   We stood as part of this crowd, watching members of our group shifting hither and yon and farther and farther from the rest of us for perhaps half an hour? during which I tried not to remember how scary it was to move out through that other crowd on Sunday, and to tell myself emphatically enough that if our choir was going to get to sing for the Pope that morning, I really did need to be there to hear it, having already come so far.

Eventually we were given the go-ahead to move into the fray and make our way around rather a lot of fencing, at which point it was too late to think about anything because I was too deeply embedded amongst all those people to do anything but flow.

Unlike Sunday, when the security line was all there was to deal with, we had to go on moving through similar crowds post-security to find our way to some chairs.  Mostly I was fixated on spotting and following anybody from our group, because I knew that if we lost them, we would also lose our choir.  It was pretty crazy, until we popped out into a more or less open seating area into which all of our group was miraculously pouring from every direction and gathering itself back together into a little community.

At which point I realized I was here.

The choir was to our right, directly behind the barriers in reserved seating protected rather grandly by a large gentleman in a tailcoat, and I personally was about as close, if not closer, to the Pope's chair than I was when I'd taken this picture on the Sunday. I still can't quite believe it.

Once we were seated and everybody was together apart from a few brave souls who ventured forth for the bathroom and didn't all make it back (45 minute waits for the early adopters, barred re-entry for some of the stragglers) - that's when I started to miss my knitting.  For two hours.  Gah.  Amazingly, two hours goes pretty fast, even under a now-baking sun without any knitting at all, when you are waiting for something you know you will never ever experience again in your lifetime.  

Then, suddenly, I spotted movement and got this picture before anybody else had a chance to stand and snap their own:

Hello, Papa Francesco!

He arrived just before 10:30am, and the next few minutes we were all pretty giddy, as the Popemobile zipped around all the lanes left open between seating areas and slowed for the kissing and blessing of babies held aloft.  Then the Pope took his seat and many groups were welcomed in the languages of their homelands, by different people who spoke them.  We were welcomed by Father Keenan - no relation, but a former classmate of one of my neighbourhood friends at home: small world, yes?

And then - the moment we were hoping for - our choir stood and sang.  Apparently there were eight musical groups at that particular Papal Audience and all of them wanted to perform, but only three were permitted.  I guess I should have had more faith, particularly given where they were seated, but it was still such a wonderful surprise.

Here is the Pope a little later on in the programme, blessing all of us and our families.  I am so glad I brought my new camera with me.

Of course, having laid down on the job of learning Italian before the trip, I could not understand a word the Pope said on any subject, so I just tried to absorb the experience.  I was especially struck by this string of Cardinals, seated in the chairs I'd stood beside myself a few days before:

I have never seen that many Cardinals in one place... I think my previous high number was 'two.'  At the end of the Audience, all of them stood and lined up for a personal greeting with the Pope.  It took a long time for them all to get through.

And then, around 12:10:

It was done.  Time to meet at the non-running fountain to the south, and find our bus!

Or not.

(the crowds did thin eventually, and apart from a lot of leaping about excitedly taking pictures of our talented choristers, we did all get safely onto our buses again.)

I still don't know quite what to make of the whole experience, which is partly why it's taken me so long to write about it.  I mean, obviously: Pope Francis is huge in the news right now, and a lot of people wanted to be at this event, and I was very, very fortunate that I was able to be there under any circumstances let alone when so many friends actually got to perform for him.

But at the same time, even though I wasn't doing anything special like they were, I just feel so happy that I got on a plane to be there for this moment, and didn't run from the crowds, and was patient about sitting doing nothing when my normal mode is to be juggling at least three things at once.

Now, that's not to say that this learning experience will stick...

(socks in progress, legwarmers started, new socks cast on, Knitter's Frolic shopping frenzy coming up)

... but at least I know I am capable of more than I think I am.

Okay, we're done!  No more crowds for Hugs, whew.  Hope you have a lovely day and I'll see you tomorrow, with bells on.


Marianne said...

I am so proud that you were able to move past your fears and end with such wonderful, beautiful memories. Once in a lifetime events with the Pope Francis, such wonderful memories to hold in your heart. Thank you for sharing all with us. And I know your needles and yarns missed you, as did we all.

Mary Keenan said...

Awww, thank you Marianne :^)