We were up and out early this morning to St. Peter's Basilica. This morning Pope Francis celebrated Sunday Mass at St. Peter's along with the College of Cardinals, including the 19 new ones he created yesterday. The Mass was set to begin at 10am so we got to the square at 7:20am or so and there was already a huge line. I wonder what time the first people get there???
The doors opened at 8am and we got in pretty quickly. We sat about 4 rows from the back but only a few seats in from the main aisle. We were in perfect position to see the pope and the processions. Cardinal Lacroix was walking down the aisle before Mass began and we called his over to say hi. He wished Mrs. Henning a belated happy birthday (it was yesterday) saying he got onto Facebook too late to tell her yesterday! He's the best.
When the Mass began, all the cardinals processed in and then…there he was, Pope Francis. He was about 20 feet or so from us, if that. He walks up and down the aisle pretty briskly so you have to be quick when taking pictures. People go crazy to get in a position to see him. One nun came right down our aisle and tried to get past all of us to get to the aisle wall! After Mass, people move all the chairs (there aren't any pews, just plastic chairs that are set-up for Masses) and crush you to get to the main wall barrier. It was insane.
The Mass quite beautiful and thankfully they had the English translation of everything in the worship aid. Everything was in Latin except for the readings, the pope's homily, and the prayers of the faithful. The only part in English was the Responsorial Psalm which was sung beautifully by a boy from what sounded like Great Britain.
After Mass we all spilled into the square where there were about 50,000 people waiting for the pope's weekly Angelus message and prayer. Each Sunday at noon, the pope appears at a window in the Apostolic Palace high above the square and offer a brief reflection on the Sunday readings. He then prays the Angelus and gives his blessing. Past popes have also given brief summaries of their talks in other languages but Pope Francis is only strong in Spanish and Italian so he sticks to Italian only. What struck me was the number of people who showed up for something that lasts about 15 minutes. Every inch of the square was packed and I guess it's like this every Sunday and Wednesday at his general audience.
From here we all went to a reception hosted by the government of Quebec. Quebec, as you know, is fiercely independent and while still part of Canada, works hard to preserved its culture and language. There were a few speeches and beautiful views overlooking Rome from the balconies. The location was quite a distance from St. Peter's where we were before the reception. Most people took cabs over but Father Andrew Nelson and I jumped on the Metro as everyone in the city was trying to hail a cab. As such we got there a little late but in time for Cardinal Lacroix's remarks. After it was over I went over to thank Cardinal Lacroix for having us and to say goodbye as this was the last time I would see him. The good news is that he's coming to Manchester next month so more to come on that!
The Hennings, Father Andrew, and I then walked over to Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini (aka the Bone Church). This church is run by the Capuchin Friars (the same order Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston belongs to) and its big feature is a crypt with hundreds and hundreds of bones of deceased friars. They are all arranged in different "rooms" and are very nicely put together in categories of skulls, pelvis bones, etc. I guess there are bones from 4,000 friars which date back to the 16th century. The bones were exhumed from a cemetery when the friars moved there in the 17th century. Before you enter into the crypt, you walk through a nice museum which tells the history of the Capuchins. This was one site my wife strongly suggested we see and I was glad she did. You can find pictures of the crypt by clicking here. It was pretty wild!
Tomorrow we are going to visit Assisi and Father Andrew thought it would be cheaper to rent a car then taking the train. So while the Hennings headed back to their rooms, Father Andrew went to check out rental prices at Termini Station, the main train station in Rome. I wasn't ready to go back to my room so I joined Father Andrew. The price turned out to be about 10 Euros cheaper then taking the train so we booked it for tomorrow morning.
From here, Father Andrew and I meandered our way back to St. Peter's. The weather was beautiful for a late afternoon stroll through Rome with a good friend. It was a good sized walk but we were able to pop into some churches, namely the Church of the Gesu which is the mother church of the Jesuits. I attended a Jesuit high school so it meant a lot to me to visit here and to pray before the tomb of St. Ignatius of Loyala, the founder of the Jesuits. It is a gorgeous church and they have a full length mirror in the back that is angled up so you can take a picture of yourself and the amazing ceiling.
We made it back to St. Peter's around six, coming across the Tiber River via the Ponte Sant'Angelo which has a stunning view of the basilica as you cross it. I believe this is my wife's favorite spot in Rome and I look forward to visiting here again with her. She's been to Rome around eight times as she lived in Austria for a year and a half but we've never been each together. Some day!
Father Andrew headed back to his hotel and I picked up some gifts for my children before heading back to my room. I had a quick dinner at my hotel and am now getting ready to read a little and head off to bed. Tomorrow is my last day in Italy and I am so blessed to be going to Assisi. Stay tuned!