At 6:30 a.m. I began my walk toward the Basilica of St. Peter, where my ticket indicated I was to present myself at 8:30 a.m. to be shown to the "clergy section" where the priests and deacons - and apparently a few seminarians, as well - who where neither concelebrating nor assisting with the distribution of Holy Communion would be seated.
Ordinarily the walk takes about thirty minutes, depending on tourists and traffic (which are sometimes the same). With the great number of both pilgrims and tourists in Rome this weekend, I expected to encounter slow moving crowds along the way. To my great surprise and pleasure, I encountered crowds, and almost no one else, until I arrived at the piazza outside of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith just to the left of Saint Peter's Square. It was there that I found a massive gathering of priests and laity all dutifully following instructions and getting more or less in certain lines to enter the screening area before being admitted to the square.
It all seemed remarkably organized and efficient, by Italian standards, until I quickly realized that not only did not all of the workers know which line went where, but the security personnel were not yet at the metal detectors. We stood around for about thirty minutes until they arrived, all the while being pushed and shoved by impatient clergy, most of whom were from Poland and Italy. Once they began to screen us, however, the line moved along more or less well.
It was classic demonstration of Italian organization. The "line" going to the metal director was somehow between 15 and 20 people wide (as determined by the railings that guided and corralled us), all of whom had to somehow funnel themselves into a single file row to be screened. Once we finally made it through the check point, we then had to merge with large groups of people coming toward us from our right and at various - and rather random and subjective moments determined by the staff - one line or the other would be made to stop without explanation.
When, after much frustration, I finally arrived at the clergy section I was greatly relieved to find it rather empty. I took a seat along the far left side on the aisle and in the second row.
Here is the view from my seat:
The forecast for the day called for intermittent rain and the clouds certainly looked like they could unleash a downpour at any moment:
Though the temperature took a quick drop before the Mass began and the air felt like rain, a few drops fell upon us, but no real amount of rain. On a providential note, after Pope Francis said, "...we declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints, that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church," that the clouds lessened slightly and the sun shone enough to illumine the Square. (The fell at last about 4:00 p.m.)
Hundreds of thousands of people filled the Square, the Via Conciliazione that led to the Square, as well as the surrounding streets and piazzas throughout the city of Rome:
A few minutes before the Mass was to begin the congregation erupted in applause as I was sitting in my chair reading a book. I looked up and saw that His Holiness Benedict XVI, the Pope Emeritus, had arrived. As a further sign of their respect and love for the predecessor of Pope Francis, the congregation - including the Bishops - stood to welcome him as the applause continued. We saw his smile again on the jumbotrons and tears formed in my eyes; it was very good to see him again.
The Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, happened to be sitting three rows behind the Pope Emeritus, tweeted this picture:
Pope Emeritus Benedict, hunched over 3 rows in front of me in center of photo with white cap, Pope Francis upper left pic.twitter.com/ZjUW6h0xCXThroughout his life, Benedict XVI has been a man of authentic humility, a further example of which we saw today in an extraordinary way. Let us not forget him in our prayers and pray that he, too, will one day by numbered among the Saints!
— Bishop Paprocki (@BishopPaprocki) April 27, 2014
When the time came, the rite of canonization began with the Litany of the Saints as the Cardinals and Pope Francis came in procession to the altar. After reverencing the altar, the Cardinals took turns greeting Benedict XVI before taking their places at the chairs.
After the Litany of the Saints, His Eminence Angelo Cardinal Amato, S.B.D., Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, thrice asked the Successor of Peter to enroll the Blessed Popes John XXIII and John Paul II among the Saints. After imploring the assistance of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis acceded to Cardinal Amato's request, which he made in the name of the whole Church.
We then sang praise to God and Cardinal Amato asked the Holy Father to "decree the Apostolic Letter concerning the Act of canonization to be drawn up." When Pope Francis said, "We so decree," the congregation erupted in applause of joy and gratitude. It was a very moving and powerful moment.
The relics of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II were then brought to the Holy Father to venerate before placed on a pedestal beside the altar where they were honored with candles and incense:
The Mass of Divine Mercy Sunday then followed as usual, with two deacons chanting the Gospel, one in Latin and the other in Greek:
In his homily, Pope Francis said, in part, that
Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother (cf. Is 58:7), because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles. These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.
They were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.
In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:3,8). The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.After the Mass, Pope Francis greeted the various state delegations before touring the Square and the Via Conciliazione in the Popemobile. My place at the corner of the clergy section allowed me to take a pictures as he rolled by:
When Pope Francis concluded his little tour, it took some time before the security personnel opened the Square and allowed the 150,000 or so of us inside to begin to exit, but only in certain sections, thus creating several funnels within the Square that outside the Square had to funnel again into one line.
It felt as though the Italians spent so much effort figuring out how to get people into the Square that they completely forgot to plan how to get them out. It was an absolute mess and led one English woman to vocalize, rather loudly and with some anger, my same sentiments: "These are the pushiest people I have ever seen," she declared, before adding, "I'm never coming back!" I couldn't argue with her and only told her, "The Italians have no sense whatever of personal space." It seems the Poles don't either, but then neither does most of continental Europe.
Several times I wanted to turn around and say to those pushing and shoving into spaces that simply didn't exist, "Sono qui, non lei! (I am here, not you!)." I refrained, however, and once I managed my away to the other side of the Tiber the crowds lessened considerably and I continued my way back to the Casa Santa Maria and rested within the safety and peace of its walls.
All in all, the day was excellent and not nearly as chaotic as I expected it would be.
Saints John XXIII and John Paul II, pray for us!
I have posted additional pictures in an on album on my Facebook page.