Wednesday, October 26th
This was the day for the Papal Audience where we would definitely see Pope Francis. We tried not to get our hopes up too much, but we thought about what it would be like for our baby Claire to actually be kissed and blessed by il Papa. During the Major Basilicas tour we met a guy from California who had been to a Papal Audience at the Vatican already. He gave us some tips about where to position ourselves in relation to the barricades and said to show up early.
We arrived at the gate to the Vatican about three hours prior to the scheduled appearance of the Pope. Security is pretty tight, and everyone has to pass through a metal detector under the watch of armed soldiers. Gabbie wasn’t feeling well, so she and Val stayed back at the apartment. Heidi had Claire wrapped up, and I pushed Tommy around in the stroller.
Standing in line in Italy is a mess. Courtesy and respect as Americans think about standing in line don’t exist. It’s more of a mob than a line, and it’s everyone for themselves (like driving). I guess you wouldn’t really say this is rude, but rather a cultural difference. There’s a lot of pushing and shoving and cutting going on with people you would otherwise talk to and be nice with. Our progress to the gate was measured in inches, and the stroller was a big hindrance. At one point a recently married couple ended up behind us. She was in her wedding gown, and they had a special seat for the event. It turns out they’re from Seattle. How about that? Of all the hundreds of thousands of people there, of all the mobbish lines and gates, we stood right in front of people who live near us. We talked with them for awhile in line, but there was an issue.
At one point a man who was probably in his 50’s walked right up to the front of our mob and stood there on the side to get in. He was right next to us and attempted to just walk in front of Heidi. She was trying to not let him do this, and he pushed her. This guy actually pushed not only a woman, but a mother holding her infant baby. It was surreal in a bad way. What was I supposed to do? Knock an older guy out while waiting in line to see the Pope? Because of how the people were packed in I wasn’t actually that close to them, and Heidi handled it herself. It did, however, put a bit of a stain on the day. On the plus side, I think the people around us wanted to show their support and gave us a couple inches to get the stroller through. Eventually we got through security and were inside the Vatican.
We walked to one of the less crowed barricades, but even that early there was already one row of people standing there. We wouldn’t be right on the barricade. Providence, my friends. For some reason, we gravitated toward a small group if ladies who identified themselves as “The Military Wives”, but a prayer intentions card they gave us later identified them as the Military Council of Catholic Women. They were very friendly and helpful and pleased with us to stand next to them. They were sure that they could help us get Claire blessed, and that would mean that they would also be very close to the Pope.
These women were so helpful and friendly. We hung out with them the whole time, and they gave us tons of advice and support. The square started to fill up, and Heidi started holding Claire out over the barricade. As the Pope drove around (we couldn’t actually see him until he was right by us), people started crowding the barricades. Old ladies were standing on rickety plastic chairs. People were becoming hysterical, overwhelmed with emotions and crying. It’s what I imagine Beattlemania being like only on a bigger, holier scale. No, The Beatles were not bigger than Jesus.
At one point one of the security guards (might have been Carabinieri) came over to us and asked if we want our baby blessed. He told us to stay where we were, and that’s when I thought that this might actually happen. Sure enough, Pope Francis drove up to us and stopped. A man came and took Claire and handed her to the Pope. People were going NUTS all around us. Pope Francis held and kissed Claire. He blessed her and us, looking Heidi straight in the eye. He couldn’t have been more than ten feet away from us. For a moment, he held Claire’s foot, which I think means something. Then the guards handed Claire back to us, and the Pope moved on.
This wasn’t the end of things. Once we got Claire back, people – total strangers from different countries – waited in line to honor our baby.
People kissed her. People touched her head and prayed over her.
One person even held and kissed the foot that the Pope had touched. There were a lot of people around us, but it didn’t feel like an unruly mob. It was respectful and reverent. After that was over, during the rest of the address, many people in the crowd gave us knowing looks like we were special. We stayed for the address. It started to rain.
Standing in light to moderate rain is no big deal for us Pacific Northwest people. I’m not trying to imply that we’re somehow hardier than other people; we just don’t care about rain that much. So Heidi and I had no trouble standing there without umbrellas. We didn’t even really think about it, but other people noticed. A couple that was sitting way over to the side from us noticed, and the man came over and gave us their umbrella. They gestured madly to indicate that we should keep it. After the audience, one of the Wives (who didn’t realize that the couple wanted us to keep their umbrella) took it upon herself to return it to them. Through the crowd of people, the man with the umbrella came back to us a second time to say, no really, you keep this. That green umbrella will be a treasured gift for us forever.
At one point during all of this, someone handed us a card with instructions to go to the official Vatican photography office – Servizio Fotografico – because the Vatican has its own photographers who were documenting the occasion. We got to walk into a place where most people aren’t allowed in order to review the pictures the official photographers took and order prints for ourselves. I think Official Vatican Photographer would be a job title I could get enthusiastic about.
Apparently Gabbie and Valerie made it to the audience, but we didn’t hook up with them until afterward. We met them at a restaurant where we ate our first mediocre meal in Rome.
We were completely unaware at the time that an earthquake had hit Italy that afternoon.
That night Heidi woke up to use the bathroom and asked me to hold Claire. It was dark and quiet, and I was half asleep. Suddenly Heidi shrieked and ran out of the bathroom. “Didn’t you feel that?” she asked. “We just had an earthquake.” Turns out it was an aftershock from the main quake in Sellano. I was the only person in the household who didn’t actually feel what everyone else described as a strong quake. Since this was the day that Claire was blessed by the by the Pope, and I was holding her at the time I didn’t feel an earthquake, I looked at her with some amount of reverence. Whoa, I thought, she has powers now. I told you I was half asleep.