June 06

Roman Holiday

Following teaching with France Patchwork in May, our family visited Bill’s sister’s family and farm near Rouen and then flew to Barcelona, Venice, Florence and Rome for our first long family vacation ever. Our first day here in Rome can be best described as a fiasco. I had been here last as a 12-year-old and loved it but just wasn’t feeling Rome this time.

So this morning we decided to do something uniquely Roman — go to the Angelus blessings in St. Peter’s Square and watch the Pope bless the masses at noon from his famous apartment window. We checked the Vatican website last night and it was on the schedule. But when we checked again before we left we noticed that there was a canonization mass beginning at 10:30. Usually the Angelus service lasts just 15-20 mins but you have to arrive at least 30 mins early to get through security. To attend the masses, it appeared that you needed to have a ticket well in advance but we weren’t sure how it was going to work with both the mass and Angelus services scheduled so close together.

We arrived early. As I was going through the metal detector I could hear his voice and see the face of Pope Francis on the Jumbotron. There he was! St. Peter’s Square was mostly filled but instead of being in his apartment, he was in the Square with us. I looked around. I wasn’t the only person with tears in her eyes. I really admire this guy. There were so many types of ethnic dress in the square. At one point the Pope asked us to share the peace. A lovely woman who looked to be from South America, maybe Guatemala based on her clothing, turned to me with her hand stretched out and said, “La Paz.” “Peace be with you,” I told her. We both smiled and were clearly moved to be sharing that moment with each other.

The Pope celebrated the Eucharist, beatified the saints, blessed us to a roaring round of applause, finished the service, greeted the president of Poland who was there and spent a lot of time greeting other priests and visitors visible on the Jumbotron. Bill, Sophie and I were near one of the edges of the crowd barriers and were ready to get out of the heat and sun. There was still music being played and we turned to leave. Just then the crowd went crazy and I turned to see Pope Francis climbing into the Popemobile! He was coming to make a lap through the crowds! We ran back to our spots and suddenly there he was! There was no top on the Popemobile. He waved and smiled and seemed delighted to be among us. It was thrilling and we couldn’t believe our good fortune.

After we left the Vatican we went to the Pantheon to have lunch at a nearby restaurant. I was reading aloud from a guidebook about how the marble for the columns was brought to Italy from Egypt by slaves when Bill interrupted and said, “I think something’s going on over there. People have their cell phones out.” As someone who once didn’t recognize Martha Stewart when she was standing 3 ft from him, Bill suggested that I look to identify who it might be because he wouldn’t recognize them anyway. I looked over and said, “Oh. My. God. It’s Silvio Berlusconi!” The 20-something Americans at the table next to us asked me who he was. “Four-time former Prime Minister of Italy who was convicted of tax fraud, paying for underage prostitutes and other disgraceful scandals. He’s kinda Italy’s Donald Trump.” “Ah. Got it,” they replied. Later I joked to the waiter, “Can you believe Berlusconi was in the restaurant next door?” He quipped back, “Better for us that he eats next door than in our restaurant. Better for you too!”

Later in the afternoon we made our way to the Coliseum, which had free admission because it was the first Sunday of the month. We wandered among the ruins and discussed how unimaginable it was to think of all of the death that happened in that structure. On busy days, there were animals or people dying every 5 mins. As we left the sun was low in the sky. We noticed a bride walking in the distance with her new husband, posing in front of the Coliseum. The shadows were long on the cobblestones as we headed for the subway and home to our Airbnb near the Spanish Steps. Epic day.