Monday, January 28, 2008

I have seen the glory of Rome...

Once again, our intrepid band left the Casa in darkness to catch one of the earliest trains into the city. And, once again, we watched the sun rise over St. Peter’s Square - so beautiful - and so quiet at that hour. Even the light in the Holy Father’s office was off. Too early for the worries of the universal church, but the perfect time to hit the queue for the Vatican Museum!
At 7:30 AM there was already a substantial line. That’s because this was the last Sunday of the month – FREE admittance! It usually costs E14 to get in. You better believe it was a nun-fest! There were so many sisters everywhere I looked - so many different habits! The common ground of religious life has become quite clear to me in that shivering mass of humanity. As my sisters say at home, “Free is better than cheap!

An unusually cold morning (just below freezing), we huddled close against the wall of Vatican City. An hour and fifteen minutes later, we moved our frozen feet and entered the museum where security guards were awaiting us. It was SERIOUS security – metal detector just like the airport. After all, entering the museum is also entering Vatican City. VERY cool…

It’s impossible to describe what I saw yesterday and do any of it justice. I will say that the very first exhibit was the most moving. In the Pinacoteca, we viewed some late Medieval art: tempura-painted altarpieces, tapestries and paintings. We took out time here and just tried to take in the passion and beauty of these works. It was early so the halls were very quiet. It was an opportunity to do lectio with the eyes – so much to contemplate, things that took my breath away.

Believe it or not, photographs are allowed without the flash. The only place where cameras are not allowed at all is the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine is the grand finale of the tour route (there’s just one way in and one way out – just like life!) The Chapel is much smaller than you might imagine - and dark – so the walls and ceiling won't fade. It was a curious experience to stand in the center and look up…and see GOD creating the sun…and extending the touch of life to Adam...the creation of Eve…and the expulsion from the Garden. We passed around a mirror (a tourist trick that really works!) to see it all without breaking out necks.

The Chapel was filled to capacity at one point and one of the security guards had to “shhh” the crowds and remind us that we were in sacred space. I said a brief silent prayer at the altar where the cardinals place their papal ballots in the chalice. (The Sistine is home to the papal conclave though, now, empty of its thrones and canopies.) But it struck me that the Spirit swirls mightily in that space and it couldn’t hurt to invoke the Spirit’s power – even with a small little voice – for the People of God.

After the museum, we, along with thousands of others, headed for the Square to pray the Angelus with Pope Benedict. (We pray it at noon each day at the Casa so, I’m getting pretty good at it now. I went to Catholic school in the 70’s – it was all about JESUS.) Then, we slipped into a very small church – Sant’ Anna – for the 12:15 Eucharist in Italian. It was a challenge and a joy. I found myself listening even more attentively to follow the liturgy and responding in a whisper of English. After Mass, we had to get some earthly food. Pasta and some vino della casa – and then we caught the 3:00 train back to Aurelia.

It got very quiet as we hiked up the big hill to the Casa. The exhaustion seemed to hit everyone at once. After Evening Prayer, Supper and Compline, most lights went out VERY early. All in all, this was one of my very favorite experiences. I really love that the Vatican has a “free admission” day. These treasures belong to the whole Church – rich and poor alike. To have seen such beauty was a grace.
Love to you all… - Sister Vicki