Saturday, January 26, 2008

Praying with the Pope...

First, let me thank all of you for the prayers and good energy sent out to my family. Both my father and my brother had successful surgeries yesterday. Please keep them in your prayers as they continue to recover. I am so grateful for the network of love that grows and overflows into my life. It's been a difficult week, but now, I feel ready to begin again - to immerse myself in the great opportunity we've been given to study The Rule of Benedict and experience Rome.

I am having a quiet day at the Casa. Once again, the rest have gone on various adventures. I was up past midnight - a good hour and a half after the phone call came. I think when we get geared up emotionally, it's hard to turn it off. I had good rest this morning and have been enjoying a gentle day alone. I took my Saturday stroll to the market and had a calzone filled with prosciutto, ricotta and fresh mozzarella - E1.5 (totally cheap AND delicious!) - and picked up a few gifts and goodies to bring home. The sun is shining here...cold and clear. After days of worry, I feel as if the world is brand new - full of wonder and possibility.

Now, I must tell you all about our Evening Prayer with Pope Benedict XVII. We left the Casa at 2:30 PM and walked to the Aurelia Station. Three stops later, all 25 of us, walked from the train to the Metro. Several more stops and we were at San Paulo. We kept a close eye on each other - forming little groups in an effort to stay together. We arrived at the basilica at about 3:15 - just as two squads of Swiss Guard were entering the side of the massive church. It was very exciting. Then, we waited...and waited...and waited (you get the idea!) The line just kept getting bigger and bigger and people kept pushing forward. There were MANY opportunities to practice charity and patience - much like the parking lot after the 12:00 Mass!

At about 4:30, the gates were opened and we were able to pass through the security checkpoints. Our yellow tickets and the contents of our bags were sufficient for the Italian police. (The basilica is in Rome NOT Vatican City. So, the Holy Father was a guest in Italy for the evening. The carabinieri were out in full force!)
Once inside and seated, we waited some more. (Waiting is a very good thing for the American soul, I think. We're so unaccustomed to doing it at home. Our culture is all about speed - fast food, drive-thru's, express lanes and HOV. Here, things happen when they happen. And if a person wants to see the Pope, well, just pack a snack and say your Rosary because it's going to be a while!)

Vespers began promptly at 5:30. We knew the Holy Father was entering the basilica because of the rising applause at the back of the Church. After reverencing the huge altar, Pope Benedict took his place - a high, red-velvet throne which made His Holiness quite easy to see when we were seated. The whole office was in Latin. We did pretty well following along and even sang the psalms. An hour later, it was over and all the cardinals, bishops, abbots and assorted clergy of other Christian faiths, began the massive wave of human beings filling the streets.

This prayer was the closing of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. One of the great moments for me was hearing Walter Cardinal Kasper - who heads the dicastry on ecumenical relations - welcome the Holy Father and the dignitaries of Eastern and Western churches. Kasper is a brilliant theologian - required reading at Saint John's.

We had time after to look around a bit. I was very moved by the color and warmth of the murals in this vast space. There are circular discs high above the floor of the basilica that honor each of the 265 popes. Beginning with the Fisherman and ending with the reigning pontiff, the circles wind their way around the periphery. I made a careful study of the popes of my lifetime: Paul VI, John Paul I (a brief pontificate of 33 days!) and of course, John Paul II. One knows the current pope by the light shining on his image. Neat... And, we made a visit to the tomb of St. Paul. There is a deep well in front of the altar in which the excavated grave can be seen. (After studying the letters of Paul with Sister Doris Nolte, OSB, this was like the ultimate field trip!)

The train ride home was a real adventure! I've never seen so many nuns and priests in my life. We had to be careful to follow the right ones in the Metro station. And, the cars were packed with us! The poor normal people on their way home from work - they were very glad to see us get out! Tired and hungry, we arrived back at the Casa six hours after we left. The good sisters had a hot meal waiting for us - at 8:30 at night! We dined late like the REAL Romans do.

Tomorrow, many of us will leave at 7am for the Vatican Museum. The last Sunday of the month is FREE. Long queues await us but so do great works of art and the Sistine Chapel! I'm very excited... We expect to celebrate Mass somewhere in the Vatican and be in the square for the noon Angelus with Pope Benedict. Maybe, he'll recognize me from last night. Nah...

Love to you all... - Sister Vicki