It seemed like an inspiration: “Let’s go to Rome for Easter,” I said, “we’ll go to the mass at St. Peter’s! Don’t you think that would be cool?” Whatever Sally may have been thinking, she didn’t say “Are you crazy!?” So on April 15, 2001, we found ourselves in the vast St. Peter’s Square, along with a quarter-million other human beings from around the world who evidently had the same crazy idea I’d had. The following is a snippet from my journal that day:
The weather was brilliantly cloudless, but chilly. It was about quarter to 11 as we walked up Via della Conciliazione toward St. Peter’s Square. Ahead of us we could see a sea of humanity, filling the Square. I said “Buona Pasqua” to a policeman; his friendly smile in return was one of the few times all day that I felt the spirit of Christ.
The service had begun at 10:30, but I don’t think the Pope noticed we were a little late in arriving. We found a place to stand near the colonnade on the south side of the square (left, facing the church). Most of the people around us were generally worshipful, but there were also people talking on cell phones, and someone nearby had brought a dog to mass. While the Church was doing its best to be majestic, a beggar woman was working her way through our corner of the crowd. My first impulse was to say “no”. My next thought was, a simple act of charity is probably closer to the truth of Christianity than all the pomp and ceremony. So I celebrated Easter by giving her some money. That was my other religious experience of the day.
There is a slight slope inward in the Square; the combination of that and standing on uneven paving bricks began to take its toll on my legs after an hour or so. The mass went on for about two hours, after which the Pope was loaded onto a little electric truck and driven around the Square before retiring…
Leaving Vatican City behind us, we crossed a bridge over the Tiber, then headed northeast along the river to the next bridge, the beautiful Ponte Sant’Angelo. On a street near our hotel, a pigeon pooped on Sally’s coat. Apparently a papal blessing doesn’t last very long.