18 Oct The Pope, the Papal Audience, and the Pilgrimage
“Hey, it’s 5:32. Get up,” Markie kindly yelled as she exited the bathroom, already up, showered and getting dressed.
Hung-over (because every night in Rome I thought I could handle my alcohol, and every morning reminded me I couldn’t), and tired as hell, I grumbled back, “I really don’t think we’re going to see him…” Hoping she’d take the bait and agree only so I could sleep more, she responded much nicer than I would have, “Let’s just try – we’d regret it if we didn’t.”
And that was all it took.
I got my butt out of bed, hopped in the shower, brushed my teeth and threw my camera in my backpack, and we were out the door.
Okay, so we were a little behind schedule, but by this time we were bound and determined to see the Pope, yes the Pope Francis.
Only five miles, and two hours to go…
Yeah, you read that right; we walked our asses there. The rant on Rome’s public transportation is another story in itself.
It took us about two hours to walk from our apartment in Pigneto to the Vatican City, but we had to pit stop for a shot of espresso (or two – it was going to be a long day). We went against the grain, though, and sat down and drank it instead of shooting it at the counter like the Italians typically do. Ugh, such tourists…
Once we reached the Vatican City the sun was up, and the lines we thought we would beat were already backed up and getting longer.
Ugh. Why did I have to drink so much last night…
Markie walked ahead to do some scouting while I went and stood in the back of the line, only to come back and verify that yes, indeed we were in the right line. What a blow. And mind you, this was only the first of many lines to enter into St. Petersburg Basilica.
But much to our original displeasure, the line moved quickly.
Once we got past the first measure of security, which was a quick bag check, we got to the real security. Airport security. All the bags went through a conveyor belt and checked for guns, and stuff (I’m assuming), and every person had to go through a metal detector. After that though, it was like freedom.
As much freedom as the security for the Pope allows…
We were there early enough, (I know – I led you to believe we were late, which we were by our standards), that they weren’t really checking people with tickets versus those without. In that sense, Markie was really apt to break the rules and find ourselves a seat considering we didn’t really want to stand for the next three hours. But with me being the goody two-shoes, I was very apprehensive about getting kicked out and then having a shit view because we were trying to be sneaky… ugh, sometimes I curse why I have to be so “good” all the time.
So instead I staked out a good spot along the wooden fence in the back by the standing area. With three hours before go-time, I convinced Markie this would make for a great leaning post, and this would be the spot where it all went down…
For the next 45 minutes we would sit and prepare ourselves to see the Pope, or so we were hoping.
People started piling in on either side of us as the rising sun was pushing the start time up a bit. Markie had read that in the summer the Pope might start earlier due to the impressive Rome heat that bakes the square and everyone who happens to be in it… you know, like us.
Another reason to add to our list of getting to the Vatican City early, if you didn’t do your research, you might’ve missed your shot at a seat regardless if you had tickets or not.
Anyways, as more people started to position themselves behind us, we knew we’d have to guard our spots. I just didn’t think it would be as hard as it was…
A pilgrimage from Mexico ended up being behind us, and at that point it became a battle to hold our ground. My backpack was in-between my legs and the fence post for safe keeping, but for me to reach it – it looked to be so away, I felt like I would have had to cross a desert to get to it… Any minor movement we made became an open sign for the ladies behind us to try and get closer to the front.
It was when an arm lurched out from behind my right side and sealed a firm grip on the fence is when I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy fight. I turned to look at Markie, and at that moment she looked back at me with a mix of fear and fury in her eyes.
“Are you f#@$ing kidding me?” she mouthed…
Mind you; we were in a situation that no blog post could ever prepare us for.
It’s 9:15 now.
Suddenly, we looked back towards the front and noticed that everyone seemed to be looking back at us.
“What the…” I thought.
And then immediately I caught movement on the big screen.
“Wait a minute, Markie, I think the Pope is going to drive by here!” I nervously whispered so as not to bring attention to what everyone else already seemed to know.
This just became a whole new game. We had front row seats to see Pope Francis!
Let’s back up real quick, like everything we do, we had just decided a day or so earlier to go and see the Pope so we had no clue what to expect, let alone to begin to imagine that we’d actually get to see the Pope. Okay, back to the story…
Now, we really had to get big and box out. I turned back to Markie, and all I saw was her gawking at me. The lady on my right was damn near using me as a coat rack and she was the coat while I was the rack!
This was a once in a lifetime chance (for us) and I was hesitant to even ask, but I said, “Markie, I need my other lens.”
“Where is it?”
I just looked down, and her eyes followed to my backpack.
Sensing it was a dangerous mission, I just looked back up at her, “never mind, this’ll be fine,” I said, referring to my portrait lens that was already on my camera.
“Are you sure? Because we can do it, but we need to do it now.”
Knowing I wouldn’t be able to capture this moment again, I said, “Alright, let’s do it.”
So making ourselves a little bigger, we exaggerated our stance and I began my descent. I had to be quick because the longer I was down, the higher the chance of being ran over by the four foot something women behind us.
I dipped down, keeping my ass in the air (finally the Elle Woods bend-and-snap was coming in hand) to have something to block the mob behind us. Knowing where my lens was, I grabbed it and immediately came up grasping for air.
Now that I was back up, I was in a pickle. I had my camera in one hand, and my lens in the other all the while keeping my elbows locked in a ‘T’ position. Not to mention there were now two women trying to move in front of me. I can’t escape these ladies…
I looked at Markie, and she held out her arm for me to place my lens bag on her wrist like a bracelet. We were trying to be quick because at this moment the Pope was en route around the square and the moment he turned the corner, there would be no mercy from the pilgrimage behind us.
As I fumbled to twist off my portrait lens, Markie handed me my wide angle and with no time to spare I snapped on the lens when a Vatican City officer proceeded to head in our direction.
He stood right in front of us.
You have got to be kidding me.
And then, without any forewarning, there was an eruption of commotion, mainly from the women behind us whose hands were shoved in our faces left and right. And there he was, in plain view, Pope Francis himself.
The feeling was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
It doesn’t matter who you are in world, everyone knows who the Pope is and respects him. At that moment in time, there was no racial discrimination, or religious differences dividing people, we were all unified and brought together for the same reason.
A wave of respect and admiration washed over me all at once as he passed by, and to say it was a highlight of our trip is an understatement. It was a moment I’ll never forget; the Pope, the crowd, the madness – it was heavenly.
brave the madness, it worth it –