This was Sunday and my last day in Rome. As I arrived there was a huge crowd already assembled in St Peter’s Square. An air of expectancy and excitement hung in the air. The square was barricaded off but fast moving security checks at the makeshift entrance were filling it up fast. I joined the queue and was soon standing hopefully with everyone else, believers and tourists alike.
The sun was out and strong and it wasn’t long before I ended up shrouding my head in a scarf to protect it and the back of my neck, drawing a few strange looks as I looked more Muslim than Catholic.
The long wait gave me time to take in my surroundings. The square itself is large and is surrounded on three sides. At the front is the great cathedral of St Peter’s, which on this particular day had a large amount of seating arranged in front, all facing an altar. To each side are the Colonades – 284 Doric columns and 88 pilasters of travertine marble, topped with a roof and 140 statues of saints. It’s an impressive display. In the centre of the square is an obelisk, brought to Rome by the Emperor Caligula in 37 AD. It is a sun dial, it’s shadow, in a strange paradox, moves over the zodiac.
As the heat built so did the excitement. There was a TV station there and every time the camera panned, people cheered and waved in an almost festival atmosphere. Soon, to traditional choral music played over the loudspeakers a procession of people in white starting coming out of the door directly in front of us. At 10am the Pope appeared, to me, at such a distance, a small white figure but a huge cheer went up confirming his entrance. He was shown in close up on big screens for those of us further back and the long wait was rewarded.
The atmosphere changed to one of contemplation as he proceeded with the mass, copies of which had been handed out to the crowd. It was in Italian but with some Spanish it was semi-intelligible. There were also 20-30 people being confirmed that day and as he moved along the line, laying hands on people I wondered what they must be feeling, in front of all those people and confronted by such a famous holy man.
I travelled to Rome independently. I stayed at the Villa del Parco Hotel, a multi-lingual hotel, with quiet, comfortable rooms and a really nice buffet breakfast.