Friday, October 7, 2011

Day Four - General Audience With the Pope and Departure for Cascia

On Wednesday, we arrived at St. Peter's square at 8am and after going through Vatican security once again, we took our seats to await the Pope's arrival at 10:30 AM.  I was dressed in a long black jumper, black stockings and shoes and a long-sleeved lilac colored blouse.  I had forgotten to pack a black one, and more than a few people commented that they thought I looked Amish.  I brought a mantilla with the intention of donning it when  Benedict XVI arrived, but in the interest of protecting the back of my neck from a wicked sunburn, I put it on shortly after we got there.

A couple sat down next to me and proceeded to speak to me in Italian, even though I told them repeatedly I did not speak their language.  I'm not sure what dialect they spoke or where they were from, but when the wife put a dish towel on her head to protect it from the sun, memories of my crazy paternal grandmother came to mind.  She was always putting dish towels on her head or around her neck to mop up perspiration.  Anyway...

Eventually, the cardinals took their places on the steps and some children from one of the Asian countries danced in their native costumes, singing in their native language.  The woman sitting to my left was furious that people continued to talk and generally ignored the children.    She told me what she would have done had those children been relatives of hers.

A little before the appointed time, the large-screen monitor showed a military-type helicopter making a landing, and I guessed from the cheer that arose that the Holy Father was aboard.  Not more than 5 minutes later, a sweet little tune was played on an organ and the Pope-mobile made its way around the perimeter of the adoring faithful, many of them standing on chairs and calling to the Holy Father.  My pictures are as good as I could get and if you look hard, you can see the white zucchetto.

If you look really hard to the left, you can see the Pope as his vehicle rolled up the steps to the basilica
I am ashamed to say that I understood not a word of the Pope's address, which was given in Italian, but truth be told, I was just thrilled to be in his presence.  I had never been in the presence of any Pope before, even when JP II visited the US, so I simply basked in his presence and looked forward to hearing him speak in English.  I offered the discomfort of having the sun rain down directly on me as a penance for the Pope's intentions and to plead for forgiveness for my frequent lack of charity toward J, who had already tried my patience that day by trying to give a street vendor American dollars for a rosary that cost 2 Euros.

Eventually, each group that represented the English-speaking faction of the audience was mentioned to the Pope and somehow, our group was omitted.  It made no difference to me, since the church I went with was not my own parish, but it would have been nice to hear.    The lady with the dish towel on her head was holding a fluorescent lime colored plastic cup, that she waved at the Pope any time he made an announcement, or any time one of the groups present was pointed out to him.  Suddenly, I felt a splash of something and saw droplets of water all over my jumper.  When I looked around, the husband showed me that he had thrown the water on me, saying " caldo, caldo" which I understood to mean it was hot out.  I didn't make a big deal of it but still - if you're going to throw water on somebody, at least ask them first, right?

At Noon, the Holy Father chanted the Pater Noster and dispensed his blessing upon us and extended that blessing to our families.  And then he was gone.  We trickled out with the rest of the humanity and were told we had an hour before we had to meet at the fountain to get the bus back to our hotel.  I made a bee-line for a nearby Carmelite church and was very disappointed to find its doors locked for lunch when I arrived.   No point in trying to catch a cab to Chiesa Santa Maria della Vittoria as this, too, was likely to be closed for lunch and siesta.  Later on I would learn that we would have no Mass at all that day since we would be arriving too late at Cascia for the friars there to keep the basilica open.

I went back to the shop where I had seen the beautiful image of the Immaculate Conception and decided this would be my one big splurge while in Italy. I intended to give the statue to my mother to hold until the end of her life, at which point it would become Rebecca's.  The woman wrapped her very carefully so that she would survive my upcoming travels safely.  I also purchased some Rosaries and then made my way back out on the street.

A beautiful gypsy with a silk dress and matching silk scarf asked me for money. She was holding an infant that I bet was not her own.  She looked exactly like the kind of statues of gypsies that my aunt used to bring back from Italy, and all my relatives would make a fuss over .  She was so alluring that I half considered giving her a Euro to pose for a picture, but then I decided against it.

We got back to our hotel for lunch, and then we sat outside waiting for our luggage to be loaded onto the bus.  I noticed that the two soellas who ran the guest house were lugging our bags themselves, while some of the able-bodied men in our group sat and watched.  I jumped up to help, thinking this would shame the men into doing the same, but I was only fooling myself.   Unbelievable.

We boarded the bus and headed to the highway that would lead us part of the way to Cascia, which was to be the focus of much of our journey.   The Appennine mountains would be our companions for the next few days.

NEXT: Arrival in Cascia and introduction to the Augustinian Contemplative Nuns

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