When Nate and I decided to take this trip to Rome, we didn’t have any idea of what our Christmas day plans would be… at that point, I think it was enough for us to just imagine ourselves in Rome on Christmas. About a month ago, Nate’s father suggested to him that, since we were going to be in the motherland of Catholicism, it may be interesting to try to attend the midnight mass in Vatican City on Christmas Eve. I started looking into it, and not only were we arriving in Rome too late on the 24th to attend the service, but tickets to the service were sold out. As I was researching, however, I discovered that there was also a papal blessing at noon on Christmas day that was outdoors in St. Peter’s Square and didn’t require tickets, and it was at this point that I said “Eureka!” with my index finger pointed enthusiastically in the air.
On Christmas day, we ambled around at the Colosseum for a couple hours (for free, too! Merry Christmas to us) before heading to the square. We arrived more than an hour before the blessing was scheduled to begin, and there were already thousands of people there. As the 12:00 hour drew closer, even more people started flowing into the square, and a great parade (although ‘parade’ probably isn’t the right word, as it was very serious) of what I presume were Roman military men, dressed in what I presume was traditional Roman military garb, began marching toward the front of St. Peter’s Basilica. There was a great deal of pomp and circumstance.
When the Holy Father arrived on the scene, everyone was ecstatic, to say the least. He appeared in a window in the center of the basilica and sat down in a very ornate chair before he began reciting his Christmas address from a massive book whose pages were diligently turned for him by an underling. It was all in Italian (or maybe it was Latin? It’s all Greek to me, har har), but it sounded really lovely.
Once he had finished his address, he proceeded to say Merry Christmas and God Bless You in nearly every language imaginable: Portuguese, Romanian, French, Vietnamese, Icelandic, Spanish, Japanese, Afrikaans, and that’s just to name a few. It was incredible. And every time he spoke in the language of someone present in the crowd, they would cheer loudly, and the Pope would pause and smile and lift his hand to acknowledge them in a wave. He seemed like such a sweet, good-natured old guy. Once he was done, he stood and waved to the crowds and slowly receded back into the basilica, and the bells rang and rang and rang.
I’m not Catholic, but being blessed by the Pope was a really magical experience that I won’t soon forget. Since I’ve been in Europe, there have been several instances where I’ve been absolutely dumbfounded at the incredible things I’m able to experience, and this was definitely one of those times. All of which is to say: it was amazing, and five million points to Nate’s father for planting the seed in our heads to make this experience happen.