We left our school campus yesterday afternoon at 3:30, drove 14 hours over the Alps and down into Italy, and arrived just after 6 this morning! It was a long and tedious drive with very little sleep, but as soon as we pulled into that parking lot, we were out of the buses and running toward the Vatican! We weren't the first ones in line, but we were far enough up that we knew we'd get decent seats. We found ourselves next to some seminarians from St. Paul/ Minneapolis, and after praying morning prayer with them, we talked to them for about a half an hour. Soon, there were tons of people pushing into us from behind, and at one point, we were literally being carried forward by the crowd; I couldn't have stayed still if I had wanted to!
Once through security, a group of about 20 of us discovered that we'd been separated from the main group: they were all up in the very front section, and we were in the back. Still, after much debating over whether it was worth it to sneak up front, we figured that since we were right next to the barricade, we had a chance of seeing Pope Benedict.
Vatican events are great ways to meet people. We got to 'talking' (or rather, communicating) with an Italian group standing near us, and even though we spoke very little of each other's language, we were all able to understand rather well. We ended up praying an Italian/English/Latin rosary with them. And then, as we hung the Franciscan University Austria Program banner over the side of the barricade, we found out that a woman standing across from us has a brother at Franciscan, and her husband works at a Catholic news company. She was there with her daughter and two infant sons.
Finally, 10 o'clock arrived and cardinals began making announcments and welcoming hte various groups who were there. Franciscan got mentioned, as well as my diocese! At 10:30, we all started craning our necks toward the archway next to St. Peter's, and as the organ music began, Pope Benedict came around the corner in his Pope mobile!
He began weaving his way through the crowds, going up one aisle and down another, and just when we had given up hope that he was coming near us.....
THERE HE WAS!
Right next to us! He stopped to bless two children across the barricade from us, and was literally RIGHT in front of us! He looked straight at me; needless to say, taking pictures wasn't the very first thing on my mind. It was one of the most beautiful moments in my life, right up there with receiving first Sacraments and becoming a godmother. I don't think there was a single person in our group, guys included, whose eyes were dry. (admission: half of us were crying like small children. embarrassment level: zero. It's the Papa! We're allowed to cry!) (oh, and there's no zoom on the pictures!)
Let's be honest here: after that, not a whole lot mattered. There was a reading from scripture and the Pope gave an address in Italian, followed by short addresses in 6 or 8 different languages. And then we were given a Papal blessing that extends to all our family members and loved ones back home. I didn't know that was possible! He also blessed any religious articles that we had with us.
The rest of the afternoon was taken up by pizza, gelato, walking, more pizza, and more walking, but we kept going back to that moment, when the Pope was 4 feet away from us, and time seemed to stand still.
Tomorrow, we will be touring part of the city and then watching Papa leave Vatican City before the abdication. Of course, it will be bittersweet, but to be here, as history unfolds, is incredible in and of itself.
You're all in my prayers!
(ps: please pray for a friend of mine who is entering a cloistered monastery on March 3rd! thanks!)