This past Wednesday, which was Ash Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend mass at one of the oldest churches in Rome and then go to the Vatican to attend a palpal audience with Pope Francis!
When I woke up Wednesday morning, I was excited to go to the Vatican for the first time to see the Pope, but I had not been able to imagine the magnitude of the joy that would come from seeing Pope Francis. When we arrived, all of the seats had just been filled. This meant that we were among the first people in the standing room only section so we were right at the front of where Pope Francis would soon be driving! There was so much anticipation and excitement in the air and hundreds of people continued to enter. Soon, groups were being introduced in many different languages. Duquesne got a shout out! After that, the Pope began to drive around the square. Even before I could see him, I could tell that he had started his ride from the excitement of the crowd. During my first glimpse of the Pope, he was handed a baby from the crowd and kissed and blessed her, which gave me chills. He continued to drive around while waving and blessing children. He even blessed someone who had been brought to the Vatican on a stretcher and appeared to be very ill. Then, the Pope gave his speech which focused on the Jubilee year and a Bible passage from the book of Leviticus. He spoke in Italian, so after he was finished with his speech, a series of men summarized it for the crowd in a many languages. At the end of the audience, the Our Father was sung in Latin and then the Pope blessed the crowd. He said that in blessing us he was also blessing our families and loved ones back home which was very touching.
The smile and the joy of Pope Francis is so heart warming and contagious. It truly was a blessing to see and hear from him.
Visiting the Vatican for the first time was a wonderful spiritual and cultural experience. There were pilgrims from all over the globe who had come to the Vatican to attend the audience. I do not think that I have ever been surrounded by people from so many different locations around the world before. It was amazing and humbling that we were all brought together to that spot by our faith. Before this experience, I had not considered myself a pilgrim. I thought of myself only as a student continuing her education in Rome. Now, I see that I can be both a student and a pilgrim, and that I should use my time here in Rome, the Catholic capital of the world, to not only gain knowledge about art and history, but to question and strengthen my faith.
After the Audience
After the audience, my friend and I wandered the city and went to a cafe to do some studying. One of the places we stopped was Largo Argentina. Historically, Largo Argentina is most importantly known as the place where Caesar was stabbed. Today, however, Largo Argentina is known as the cat sanctuary, and is home for many cats. One day a week you can even go and officially adopt one of the cats! While we were there, my friend and I counted seventeen cats. As a cat lover, Largo Argentina quickly became one of my favorite spots in the city as it combines magnificent ruins with my favorite fluffy animals!
The highlight of my day today was definitely getting to see the Pope in the presence of hundreds of fellow Christians. The low point was the fact that we wore our ashes on our foreheads for almost the entire day. This might not seem like a low point from an American perspective because back home it is customary to keep ashes on all day. It is even recommended that you let them fade away naturally rather than brush or wash them off so that you can be reminded of their symbolic message for a longer time period. In Rome, however, it is offensive to keep your ashes on all day. Unfortunately, we did not know this until around dinner time, and we likely offended many Romans. I felt awful. However, it was a learning experience that taught us something about Italian culture and reinforced the importance of knowing a culture’s customs so that you don’t offend the people. We are now much less likely to make a mistake like this one again.
Overall, One Pope + Seventeen cats = One very good day