I like to think that I am a decent writer but believe me - I don't think William Shakespeare could fully capture what we saw today at the Vatican.
The day began at 7am when the chimes of Saint Peter's Basilica rang and the doors to the grand Church opened up. We were in line with folks that were with Archbishop Lacroix and when we walked in, I was speechless. I have seen Saint Peter's a trillion times on-line and on TV but nothing prepares you for when you see it in person. The magnificent altar. The statues. The bodies of popes that are incorrupt (i.e. not decomposed). It was...well, indescribable.
We were soon taken down into the crypt for Mass. Saint Peter's is built on the bones of Saint Peter and Archbishop Lacroix said Mass in the chapel right in front of the area where the bones are kept. He gave a wonderful homily in which he asked, "Have you ever wondered why Jesus asked Peter to be the leader of the Church and not someone more faithful like John?" Peter of course denied knowing Jesus when He was arrested whereas John stayed with Jesus to the bitter end, even taking care of Mary His mother. I never thought of it that way and it was a powerful reminder that God doesn't always work with or call the perfect or the super holy. Rather, He calls regular people. Sinners...like you and me. To hear these words so close to the remains of Saint Peter and in the Church that bears his name was humbling to say the least.
From here we were taken behind the walls of the Vatican! The Swiss Guards were a little hesitant to less us through at first but our guide has worked for four popes and was able to get us through. We walked behind the basilica and into the inner sanctum of the Vatican. We ended up on a portico at the Vatican Museum with a beautiful view of the basilica's dome. We then went on a tour of the Vatican Museum where we saw artwork that we only read about in books or see on-line. I am talking about sculptures from the era BEFORE CHRIST, paintings by Raphael and Michelangelo, and countless of other works of art. Mr. Mailloux and I commented on how some of these items were so amazing and took years to create and we're just walking by them and glancing. It was completely overwhelming. Archbishop Lacroix told me how good it was of the Church to preserve all these works of art for all of us.
The highlight of this tour was the Sistine Chapel. Painted almost entirely by Michelangelo over the course of four years...it was just spectacular. I used many of these paintings when I taught Freshman Theology and to see them in person...especially the ones dealing with the creation of man and the fall of man...was just unbelievable.
It was a long and crowded tour and there was so much to digest but man was it humbling. On the way out I bought my son Kevin a Swiss Guard bobblehead. The price was 25 Euros so I told the guy no and he then said it would be 15 Euros. When I was still not interested, he went down to 10 Euros and I couldn't pass it up. Kevin should love it.
During the afternoon, Mr. Nelson took Mr. Mailloux, Mrs. Henning, David Gagnon, and me around Rome where we saw some magnificent churches, including the Pantheon. The Pantheon was built in the 2nd century as a temple to Roman gods but became a Catholic Church around the 7th century, Every Church was so exquisite that you could not fathom who built or thought of them. David and I marveled at the detail and the planning that went into them. Who even came up with the designs?
This evening we were invited to a reception with the Delegation of Quebec to Italy. The Delegate said a few works followed by Archbishop Lacroix and the Mayor of Quebec. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop Lacroix's predecessor and currently the man in charge of helping Pope Benedict XVI pick new bishops, was also there.
Mrs. Henning took a ton of photos which I am sure she will share soon. Tomorrow is the big day when Archbishop Lacroix and 39 other archbishops receive the pallium from Pope Benedict. The Mass begins at 9:30am so I should get some sleep.