Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Seeing the Pope

When Andrew and I went to Rome to research Sacred Fire, we also spent a great deal of time delving into Catholic history. If there’s a major cathedral in that city we didn’t see, I don’t know about it. I’ve always loved Catholic art. Being inside those amazing buildings gave me an adoration for it. I didn’t know I could have such a spiritual experience from someone else’s religion.

I was particularly excited to see the Vatican. I had studied it in art history and was thrilled to see the enormous St. Peter’s cathedral, Michelangelo’s statue of Mary and Christ, Raphael's murals.

(Before we went, I bought the coolest souvenir I own: an apron with the paintings of the Sistine chapel. My husband doesn’t like it because he says naked men aren't appetizing.)

We rode a filthy bus coated in graffiti and slime for 20 minutes to get to the Vatican. I was thrilled when we got to the gates… until I saw the crowd. St. Peter’s square was filled to the brim with people while some voice boomed in Italian over the microphone.

“Do you think we could still go in?” I asked Andrew hopefully.

“No, it looks like they shut everything down.”

I was frustrated. What on earth could be so important that they would shut down the entire Vatican? I peeked through a protective fence to see who was the cause of my misfortune. On a large screen, I saw a gray-haired man in white robes wearing a flat white hat.

I pulled away. “Andrew, I think that’s the Pope.”

“Seriously?” He peered through the fence. “Geez, that is the Pope.”

“We have to get a closer look.”

The entry was closed. Maybe you had to buy a ticket or they only let people in at the beginning of the meeting. Andrew and I waited until the security guards weren’t looking, jumped over a waist-high wall, and disappeared into the crowd.

I marveled at how easy it was; in Utah if you want to hear the prophet speak, you have to go through a metal detector and get your purse checked. (You also have to make your way through groups of protestors, but that’s another story.)

We couldn’t understand what the Pope said, but we were there, and we got pretty close. Later on we were able to see inside the Vatican, which was incredible – I never imagined it would be so big – but seeing the Pope was one of the top highlights of the trip.


  1. I remember seeing Pope Paul VI in 1976. He was brought into St. Peters on a golden sedan chair carried by six men in black tuxedos. The only entrance I ever saw that was better was Elton John at the LA Forum.

  2. Are you sure you don't want to write a comedic novel about a writer who sneaks into places?

  3. That is so cool!! I love that you sneaked in to see him, too-- that makes it even more awesome. :)

  4. Who knew that going to check out a beautiful building would turn into such an adventure? Glad you had a chance to be there to experience that.

  5. Catholicism was a very visual culture. Those medieval carvings burn with mystery and power. I find them much move evocative than the later Renaissance sculptures and paintings, which are impressive but lack an element of the supernatural

  6. What an experience! Hopping the wall was just the start of something you'll remember all your life.

    By the way, I am awarding you the "Liebster Award". Come over to my site and follow the directions.

  7. I had a similar experience in London outside of Buckingham Palace. I was crossing the street and couldn't understand all the crowds. So I pushed my way through. Lo and behold, the Queen Mother drove by and waved to me! I felt badly for all those people who were probably waiting for hours—and there I was, being a pushy American. :)

  8. Thank you so much, Susan! I love awards.


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