Sunday, April 27, 2014

Four Popes, Two Saints, a Million People

All week long, people have been flowing into Rome in anticipation of today's canonization of two former popes, with two living popes (one retired, one in charge) officiating. Polish Catholics especially were here in force (Polish was the primary language on my plane back from the U.S. last weekend) to honor John Paul II.  There are so many fascinating issues swirling around this event -- the first ever canonization of two popes at once; the sense that they are honoring one liberal and one conservative Pope in order to assuage the different wings of the Church; the rapid pace with which John Paul was canonized; the ongoing drama of ex-Pope Benedict and current-Pope Francis interacting.  This was definitely a unique event in the history of Rome and the Church.

I wandered over to the Vatican late morning (the Academy is just a 15 minute walk away).  All was quiet on streets and on the Janiculum (the hill we live on). Perhaps the predictions had been exaggerated.  And then as I made my way down the hill I heard Gregorian chants coming from huge speakers before hitting a wall of people.  I could go no further than the Tiber and the bridges.  Every square inch in and the around the Vatican was packed.  Most of the thousands I saw couldn't even see a screen.  They were standing or sitting around listening to the event on their smartphones.  Many who had camped out all night were in fact sleeping through the big event -- the moment when Pope Francis actually declares that these men are saints.

I made my way through the historic center and into Piazza Navona, which was also packed with people craning for a view of the large screen set up at one end.  I couldn't push my way past praying, kneeling believers to get even a glimpse.  Last night and throughout today, churches were open and bells were ringing to the mark the event.

One benefit is that I made it into one of the architectural jewels of the city, Sant Ivo, the church in the original building complex of La Sapienza university.

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