Everyone has been telling me what an experience it must have been being in Rome when they announced the Pope’s death, but I was not in Rome when I heard the announcement, ironically. I was on a bus heading towards my hotel in Perugia, Italy. While on the bus, another Cabrini student, John Pino, received a phone call from a friend informing him that Pope John Paul II had passed away.
In Perugia, I was surprised because we did not hear any bells ringing to signal the death of the Pope. Meanwhile, Cabrini students Mary Romanello and Gina Comet were in Rome and able to hear the Vatican bells from the apartment.
When we arrived at our hotel, the TV was on, showing live footage of St. Peter’s and the thousands of people that had already gathered to remember the Pope. The owner of the hotel and her mother both sat intently watching the TV and aided in translation. They both explained to us that over the next few days, under strict Vatican regulations, the Pope would be laid out for the public to view and then would be buried within a certain amount of days after his death.
The woman explained that about two weeks after the death of the Pope, the cardinals would all gather in the Sistine Chapel to form a Conclave, where they elect a new pope. The mother of the hotel owner, an older Italian woman, spoke to us in her native language and told us that it was a sad time for Catholics and even non-Catholics now because they had just lost an extraordinary man and that the next pope would have to work extremely hard to fill the void left by John Paul II.
After leaving our hotel, we went to a local church to join the other townspeople for a midnight vigil. That night I felt as if I did not walk into that church as an American, but as a Catholic person mourning the loss of a great person alongside other Catholics. The next day, we watched TV with the hotel owner and she again translated the news for us. She explained to us that Italy would now be in a state of mourning for the next few days. She also told us how she fears that the successor might not be as open-minded as John Paul II.
When I arrived back in Rome late Sunday night, all the flags that had been placed at half-mast out of respect for the Pope immediately moved me. In Monteverde, where I live, the death of the Pope did not cause much change in the daily routine of the people.
However, the area by the Vatican is hectic and chaotic. The city of Rome and the Vatican have prepared themselves for about two million people to come here to pay their last respects to the Pope.
On Monday, the Pope was moved from his Apostolic Palace through St. Peter’s to the Basilica where he was laid out for the public to view him. I left my apartment at about 3:45 p.m. and arrived at Via del Conciliazione, which is the street leading to the Vatican, at about 4:15 p.m.
We had to walk all the way to the beginning of Via del Conciliazione to join the others in line and we were instantly sucked into the throng of people waiting to view the Pope. Since they expected so many people to come to visit, the entrance to St. Peter’s has been blocked off in certain areas so that everyone must enter from the same direction.
We moved along pretty quickly when we first entered the line, but only about two blocks up, we were forced to stop. Waiting in the intense heat of the sun, we became very close with the people surrounding us because there were so many people there and so little space.
As the sun started setting, we began inching our way forward. Every little move forward meant cheers from the crowd. People would impatiently shove if you were taking too long to move. When the sun set at 7:30 p.m. that night, we still had yet to step foot in St. Peter’s Square.
Finally, the crowd began moving again at a rapid rate and we were about to reach St. Peter’s Square, only again to be stopped by traffic directors. The people in front and behind us were not happy about this at all. My roommate and I even noticed one older woman in front of us purposely blowing smoke into one of the traffic director’s face because he would not let her pass.
After about six hours of waiting, we finally made it into St. Peter’s square were moving much quicker now. As I was standing in line to view one of the most important people in the world I could not fathom the way people were acting.
Until that point people had been pushing and shoving to make it into the square. They had been yelling, singing and talking loudly on cell phones, but the moment that people set foot into St. Peter’s Square, it all changed. People moved quickly to get in the Basilica, but no longer pushed.
Voices were toned down to a whisper. People looked out into the square and would point to all the vigils set up for the Pope. After all those hours of waiting, bundling up against the cold night and striking up conversations with the Italian family next to us, we were able to walk into St. Peter’s Basilica.
In the Basilica, there was almost utter silence from the people, except for those few that you could hear murmuring responses to prayers said by one of the cardinals. Walking down the nave of the Basilica towards the high altar, I got chills knowing that I was soon about to see the Pope.
In front of the high altar was a table covered in gold cloth on which the Pope was laid out. To me, being placed on that huge table made the Pope seem so small. When I first saw the Pope, I was surprised by the sheer fact that he was laid out in the open.
Only guards stood between me and the Pope, no casket, no covering. As important as the Pope is, I could not get over how openly his body was exposed to the public.
Pope John Paul II appeared to finally look at peace and at rest after many years of suffering. I noticed that in front of us enormous crowds of people were taking pictures of the Pope’s body, which I felt was disrespectful and morally inappropriate.
Although we waited six hours to view the Pope, we were only able to get a few seconds to glimpse him before we were ushered out of the way. However, it was well worth the wait.
The funeral has been set for Friday, April 8, at 10:30 am. Many world leaders, even our own President Bush, are expected to be present for the funeral. For the most part, the city of Rome will be shut down including local shops and schools such as the American University of Rome. On the day of the funeral, the city is going to be extremely chaotic with millions of mourners all there at once to pray for Pope John Paul II.
Posted to the web by Shawn Rice