Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Assisi Pilgrimage: The Vatican


Inside the Vatican: National Geographic


The Sistine Chapel

I remember my time in Italy and especially in Rome last year as if it were yesterday. While I initially had a difficult time adjusting to the fast paced life of Rome I was immediately attracted to the Vatican. Our pension was two blocks away. From my bedroom window I could see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. At night it was lit up and I could not believe my view.

To go almost anywhere in Rome we had to walk though St. Peter’s Square. The size of the square, the columns, and the statues all demanded that we pause. The obelisk of St. Peter's square comes from the Circus of Nero. On the facade of the church there are 5 doors: the Door of the Death, the Bronze Door, the Holy Door (where the Pope kneels every Holy Year in the Christmas day and hits three times the door to enter), the Door of the Good and the Evil and the Door of the Sacraments.

The boulevard that Mussolini created to connect the Vatican to Rome provided a clear view of the Tiber and the bridges that crossed it. Everything about the view told me I was in a very special place.

The Papal apartments appeared to always be busy. Late at night the lights would be on. I found myself walking past to wish “Papa” goodnight.

There was always activity. We would have dinner at an outdoor cafĂ© and throngs of people would come swarming out of the Vatican at night. They were mostly young and they were singing, playing guitars and yelling, “Viva la Papa”. Priests and sisters from all over the world, with very different habits walked the streets.

The Swiss Guards were everywhere. They had so many different uniforms. All of them were in great shape and I would not want to anger a single one of them.

Father Andre took us on our tour of the Vatican. It was beautiful. It was created out of materials that would always look new. The place was old and shinny. The column that held up Michelangelo’s dome were each wider than my house. The art was wonderful. Mosaics, statues, paintings, the Pieta, there was almost too much to even comprehend.

The dimensions of the Basilica, engraved in the floor, are huge: 211,50 meters (including portico), 186,30 meters (without portico), 44 meters high and the dome is 136 meters high. The Canopy that covers the Major Altar, made by Bernini in 1633, is 29 meters high and has been done with the bronze of the ceiling of the Pantheon under commission of Pope Urbano VIII.

The papal alter over the tomb of St. Peter is magnificent. It is huge, when the sun shines through the windows it looks like it is ablaze in glory. I love this place.

Father Andre showed us where Vatican I and II took place. He took us to the tombs of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II. Finally he took us to the lower level. Inside a Lithuanian Chapel we celebrate Mass. For Ruta, the art curator at St. Bonaventure University this was especially touching. She is from Lithuania. For me it was overwhelming having Mass in St. Peter’s. The following day I would do my first liturgical reading at our pension, my first reading and it was in Rome!

The next day Ron and Lil and I tour the Vatican Museums. We walk through hall after hall of vibrant frescoes. We view masterpieces in every conceivable medium. I like the Egyptian art and I love the Vatican Gardens. Then we enter the Sistine Chapel.

The chapel is like no other place I have ever visited. The art is beautiful and tells a story without words. This is where Popes are elected and this is where we linger.

It would have been nice to have an audience with the Pope. However, on Wed. he was in Poland. However, we did get to see the joyous faces of those who did meet with him. Additionally, on our last night in Rome we meet Archbishop Hughes of New Orleans and Cardinal Leveda, Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith. It is the job Cardinal Ratzinger held before becoming Pope Benedict. Cardinal Leveda is the highest ranking American in the Vatican. I was excited to be introduced to them. Especially since I was going to New Orleans the week after returning home from Italy.

Rome was wonderful, the Vatican was indeed moving and I cannot wait to return.

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