Thursday, September 10, 2015

Rome - And Then There's Saint Peter's

evening in Saint Peter's Square
On our first night in Rome as Maggie and I walked around after supper, catching a glimpse of Saint Peter's Dome under a gibbous moon was magical.  Busses, cars, motorcycles zipped past us as we stopped to take photos under the streetlight.  We weren't close enough to see more than just this small portion of it, but it was enough to give me goosebumps.

The next evening we walked over to see the square - it was fairly quiet at dusk.  The plaza was  huge.  There were  people walking around - some in clerical collars or habits, some tourists with cameras strapped across their chests, some young travellers.  We wondered who the various statues represented, silhouetted against the darkening sky.

I thought I might come back another day and pop in to see Michaelangelo's Pieta.  Maggie had been inside before and wasn't particularly invested in going back.  The next day as we walked to Trastevere and passed through the square around 10 am, there was probably almost a half mile long line snaking around to the entrance to the basilica. People stood with umbrellas in the hot sun.  I decided that it wasn't THAT important to get inside.

On Sunday morning while Maggie was sleeping, I decided to run out for an espresso.  But something made me veer off instead toward the square.  As I got there, I noticed a very small line to get into the basilica - and decided to go on in.  What a special visit!  I loved being in this place that had seen so many pilgrims over the years - noble, sacred, humble, plotting, lusting for power; every stripe has walked through those doors, bowed before those altars, stepped over those floors.

Early Morning, No Lines
Sunday Morning Uniform of Swiss Guard
The Pieta is kept roped off at such a distance that I wished I had my binoculars to see it.  That was a disappointment.  But just being in that space, seeing the mosaics and frescoes, having a sense of the spirits that inhabit these rooms was enough.  So much humanity is represented here.

There was a woman who was camped out on the steps along the porticoes outside that I had noticed the first evening we went there.  She had a brown plaid blanket, bags with clothes? food? - At first I thought she was someone who was homeless.  Then I saw a nun speaking with her that evening.  I had the sense that the nun might have been from Africa.  I saw her there for the next couple of days and decided that she might be there as a pilgrim or petitioner.  She seemed to have a purpose.  I wanted to speak with her but thought that I probably couldn't because of language differences.  On the morning of my visit I had made up my mind to approach her and see if we could communicate.  But she was gone.  May she go in peace, wherever she is.

Poster on Wall at Saint Peter's
I think the most wonderful part for me was recognizing that Pope Francis is setting a most needed tone and  challenge for the world - and that I might be walking on the same stones and steps he has used.  I have great respect for him as a spiritual leader.  There was something hanging over some iron gates that I thought was a sagging swag, looking a little sad.  Then I realized that it was the world, fashioned from laurel leaves - I imagine a remnant from his Laudate Si speech - a most welcome declaration!

I was very moved to have been there, to experience this atmosphere, to see these remnants.  That kind of inspiration carries you to different levels in your life.

One of two fountains in square