Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Vatican and a surprise encounter

Along the stairway leading to Piazza del Popolo from the Borghese Gardens

We woke late on Tuesday, the morning after our arrival -- though considering the time difference of six hours it was not late but quite early: nine a.m. in Rome equals 3 a.m. in Minnesota. It didn’t take Bill long to figure out how to make a great cup of coffee in the small espresso maker at the apartment and the butter, peach jam, and dry tostinis, (what we think of as Melba Toast), comprised the balance of our breakfast. Then we were off to the Borghese Gardens and Piazzo del Popolo for a two hour morning walk.

Piazzo del Popolo as seen from above in the Borghese Gardens.

The Pizzeria on Via Babuino where we had lunch of 4 plates of different roasted vegetables.

Our parish priest from Grand Marais, had written a letter to the Vatican recommending us for an audience with the Holy Father for Wednesday. We had been subsequently notified that we were to pick up our tickets at the “Bronze Doors” between two and 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. Though it was probably just as easy to walk, we took the Metro from the Piazza di Spagna to the Vatican and joined the long lines of tourists and pilgrims waiting to clear security. While shifting from foot to foot (I’m not good at standing still for hours), I overheard the woman behind me talking enthusiastically about the pilgrimage to Assisi where she’d been present for the spectacular celebration of the feast of St. Francis. Assisi, being the town I most desired to visit – the source of the Franciscan tradition in which I’d lived for 15 years as a Poor Clare nun -- I turned toward her.

Beryl on the bridge on her way to the Vatican

The trite expression we use to describe the event that ensued is “It’s a small world,” but my encounter with a nun from the same monastery where I’d spent 15 years of my life made the world seem miniscule. This unexpected meeting while waiting at the Vatican spread an aura of blessing over the trip that Bill and I had begun the day before.

Sister, who’d been granted a few extra days in Rome before returning to the cloister in New Jersey, had acted as a tour guide on a Franciscan pilgrimage to share the perspective of St. Clare’s life in conjunction with that of St. Francis. Those on that pilgrimage told her afterwards that they’d gone to Assisi to “to meet Francis and had met Clare as well.”

It was late by the time we entered the bronze doors to claim our “invitations,” to the Papal Audience. Here’s a bit of advice for those hoping to attend a general Papal Audience: Forget the tickets -- we were never asked to present them at the actual audience the next day. Spend the time visiting the Vatican Museums instead. Having spent hours waiting on yet another line for those “tickets,” we had little time to visit the Vatican Museums before they closed. Bill and I were among the last persons allowed to enter the museums and then we had to “fly” through that immense labyrinth of art-laden halls in our desire to reach the Sistine Chapel (which is one of the final stops within the museum) before the museum closed at 4 p.m.

Is there ever a “good time” to visit the Sistine Chapel? I have no idea. Thirty years ago when I last visited there weren’t the crowds there are today. As Bill and I craned our necks to view Michelangelo’s ceiling, we were pushed about by the milling crowd. Bill even missed seeing the most famed fresco of all – the creation of Adam which is tucked among the other portrayals of saints and sibyls adorning that ceiling. Certainly we could have seen more through reproductions in books and online, but then we would have missed the sense of awe that standing in the presence of Michelangelo’s frescoes evokes.

1 comment:

diana raabe said...

Did you find the Sistine Chapel worth the crowds, Beryl?