Catholic Spirituality,  JPII,  Traveling with Children

The Sunday of Four Popes

(That’s what the Italian press were calling it, anyway)

We’re well into our fifth day in Italy (and our nightly bottle of chianti) and I cannot even fathom the amount of things we’ve done and seen in such a short span of days. I can hardly feel my toes (or see them, thanks pasta) but we’ve accomplished more than I’d dreamed possible with three bambini in tow.

Before I go any further I have to thank you for your prayers – they were felt! And they have been so effective. The flights over here were absolutely flawless: kind seat-mates, sleeping children, and earlier-than-stated arrivals. And then the big day itself… Pure grace, plenty of Divine Mercy, and a couple of legit guardian angels waiting for us in the Square. After being ushered in through a side gate (along with a stray bishop and a handful of religious) we came down a ramp and entered a cordoned-off area that seemed very like a VIP entrance to St. Peter’s Square. The only person who even looked twice at our press passes and three children in tow was a solitary Swiss Guard, but a Vatican police officer convinced him that we weren’t worth bothering with.

Once in, we made our way to the obelisk in the center of the piazza, choosing a vantage point just slightly behind and to the left (facing the basilica) and settled in to wait. We arrived around 7:30 am, and the Mass didn’t begin until close to 10.

The weather began to turn liquid about 15 minutes into the Divine Mercy chaplet, and we were waved over to a pair of women waving French flags and perched on folding stools. They gestured to a soft pile of sleeping bags and jackets around their feet, indicating that we should lay the kids down there. And then one of them opened her umbrella and insisted on holding over me and Evie, closing it intermittently between showers. She eventually insisted that I take her seat, as well, and thus was I found breastfeeding by a reporter for La Repubblica, Italy’s largest newspaper.

Oh yeah, but first this happened:

I don’t know, I guess it was a slow news day. Or we were the only family crazy enough to enter the square toting three stroller-sized pilgrims. I’m fairly confidant that might have been it…

We were treated to a lovely and poetically-timed break in the clouds when John Paul II and John XXIII were declared “Santo” and we were delighted almost to tears when Pope Emeritus Benedict appeared with the rest of the cardinali.

Oh, and we got pretty close to this guy, too:

It was a pretty amazing day. There were some rough spots, to be sure, like when Joey broke the reverent silence during the Consecration with a very audible scream of “pee is in my shoe!” as a visible dark stain spread down the leg of his jeans. But other than that, it was a peak lifetime experience for sure.

Even with the screaming children, the aching backs, and the seeming inability to concentrate on almost any of the Mass or really even reflect on the enormity of the moment, and our being there for it. Lucky for us we have a lifetime to unpack it, and a few more days in Italy to drink away the memory of John Paul putting his mouth on the cobblestones of a piazza only partially and recently vacated by of hundreds of thousands of fragrant pilgrims because he just couldn’t take another minute of it. And so he licked the ground. And scratched between the cobblestones with his fingernails, looking for God only knows what.

Rome, you never fail to disappoint. And St. John Paul II, my love for you grows and grows. Thank you for this trip, and thank you for loving our family so well.

(This book is so good. A must read for the JPII generation, and all others, for that matter.)


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