We had the next day perfectly planned. Armed with a printed version of our pre-planned itinerary and a copy of Lonely Planet, we were going to visit all the major architectural gems of Rome — come sun or not. Just as we were leaving, the Sri Lankan nun, at the reception, smiled sweetly and handed us two passes for the Papal service at St. Peter’s Square. She insisted we attend the service. Although, neither of us was in the mood to attend a service, we found it difficult to turn her down. We thought of adapting the itinerary to include the service.
After a mandatory security check at the gate, we chose a convenient spot near the stage. There weren’t a lot many empty chairs, but people didn’t seem to mind. Some of them stood in the shade, along the aisles or behind the neatly arranged rows of chairs. The air was warm and the breeze had decided to skip this event. On the other hand, the sun wanted a piece of the action. A lone gull circled the clear skies. Some young kids, probably forced to attend the service, smoked in the far corner of the square. Everyone had the same look on their face. The security guards and cardinals couldn’t mask their expressions either.
Now, I’ve never attended a football match or a UN conference; but this congregation felt like one of the two. The crowd was made up of — frenzied believers — from all corners of the globe. It was crazy! They were ecstatic and some of them broke into hymns or songs. If you’re thinking what’s the big deal, I must add, the sun was shining at its best and we were out in the open. I wish I had half of their zeal or a pinch of their faith. The statue of St. Peter watched over the crowd with a puzzled expression; probably bewildered with the cheering below.
After a wait that felt like being stuck in purgatory, Pope Benedict XVI made a stellar entry, circumscribing a portion of the square. The crowd went berserk and some members of the audience found it hard to contain themselves. The nun standing next to me, hopped on a chair — in a bid to get a vantage view and urged me to do the same. I meekly complied. I’ve studied in a convent school and feel powerless when it comes to nuns. I guess, no matter how old you are, it’s not always possible to get over old fears. Basil, struggled to get his shots, with the huge sea of bobbing heads blocking his field of view. I think, at some point, he resorted to the chair trick. And it worked.
After everyone settled down and calmed their nerves, it was time for prayer. The cardinals, dressed in black cassocks, stood solemnly on one side. There was a hush. Pope Benedict spoke a few words — in three or four different languages. I was pretty surprised. He read out special intentions of parishioners from different parts of the world. With every name read — there was a huge cry of jubilation. Then, he said some more words, ones I don’t quite recollect, and blessed some newly wed couples. It was a rather short service, and people dispersed pretty fast. I’d have to admit that it was a different experience. One that I’d like to add — to our long list of interesting travel experiences.