I set the alarm this morning to be sure of setting off early across from the hostel (near Termini) to St Peter's Square. The streets were fairly quiet just before 8am as I set out, and it wasn't until I got near St Peter's that I became more aware that I was walking with others.
I arrived at St Peter's just before 9am. There were quite a few people already in the seated area, but I could still see spaces in the front row of the barricade at the back of the seats. People were passing through bag-checks / security nearby and most seemed to be flashing blue tickets for the seating. Wasn't sure if I was supposed to go through there yet, but you learn not to be backward with queues in Rome! I joined the queue and was able to go through. Soon I was standing in place, ready to get a good view of proceedings.
I had an hour and a half to wait but there was plenty to see going on. Before long a family from Milan were standing next to me and they were my companions throughout the morning. We shared enough language to work out where we each lived and they wanted to know how long it had taken to fly from New Zealand. (10 hours to Singapore plus 13 hours to Frankfurt: they were suitably impressed!)
People were arriving with flags etc. People of all ages and nationalities were arriving. The seats in front of me were filling up, and soon the rows of people standing behind me were getting thicker and thicker as well. It was quite a help to have the barricade to rest on. I was thinking about various people in New Zealand I know who would have loved to be standing where I was. I tried to enjoy it all on their behalf and not to feel too guilty about my lack of church attendance!
It turned out to be a gorgeous morning and it was very festive in the sunshine watching people arrive. Some singing began and it was in English: an American group I think.
As the time came for the Pope to arrive, it was clear the whole ceremony was going to be very beautiful. St Peter's steps themselves were bedecked with yellow and white flowers that the Pope later acknowledged had come from Holland - to wild cheering from the Dutch in the crowd! The ceremony had everything you would expect. There was dignity and deliberate actions. One of the readings was actually in English. The prayers of the faithful were in different languages, and people of varied cultures took up the offerings. The singing was beautiful. Mostly it was easier to watch the action on the big screen as the altar was a long way away, but you still can't beat being there for the atmosphere! And at the end of the Mass, I received my second Papal Blessing.
There was a short break at the end of Mass, before the Pope appeared at a window above to give his talk. It was in Italian, but you could tell he was talking about troubled places in the world. He dwelled on Africa a bit, and also spoke about Iraq. People cheered for what he said. People there wanted peace. He gave greetings at the end in a huge range of languages. My friends from Milan clapped with me when he spoke in English. (I never tracked down another Kiwi the whole morning!) There were huge cheers from the crowd when he spoke in Spanish, and also the Romanian pilgrimage group cheered loudly. The Phillipines was another country that cheered loudly for their own greeting. At the end I received my third Papal Blessing. From none to three in a couple of days!
When the Pope had gone, people still mostly hung around the Square for a while. There was something about being there that made you want to keep being there together for a while.
But eventually I left and wandered in the direction of Piazza Navona. There were so many people on the streets. People were walking slowly, or eating in the many restaurants on the streets. Easter in Rome in the sunshine.