Rome: Vatican City

Chronicle of a never-to-be-forgotten appointment

(Wednesday, 06 April 2005)


I left early in the morning, destination Rome, St. Peter’s Square, Vatican city to pay my last homage to Pope Karol Wojtyla. On the train, the days I spent in Toronto (Canada) during WYD 2002 (World Young Days) came to my mind. The pleasant memories struck against the bare reality of Karol’s passing away in His flat in the Vatican a few days before. I went back to the last week of His life when He could not speak anymore because of the extreme attempt by His doctors to make Him breathe, which caused Him the loss of what mattered most to Him: His voice. His voice: it had always been the instrument with which He had called each of us to our own duties, to the values that make life worth living, and to deeply thinking over our existence. Now I would hear Him no longer nor would I hear His advice and God’s Word diffused world wide through the Pope’s own words.

When the train arrived at Rome station I saw lots of pilgrims: young people, whole families, plenty of Poles who seemed to welcome me while I was stepping down to the platform.

Rome looked as if she was assailed by millions of weaponless people    ready to invade it peacefully. I knew all of them were there to honor John Paul II silently, calmly, praying and waiting to be at His presence once again.

I  hurried to reach the queue, one of the so many simply looking forward to saying a prayer a side His gaunt corpse.

Banners, flags, songs, anecdotes about the Pope were a sort of company to me in the long staying in the line; I exchanged thoughts, reflection, curiosity with the pilgrims near me.

That’s what Karol Wojtyla greatly wished for: the union of many people in the name of love and fraternity. It took me 12 hours to go step by step along the Tiber, cross Vittorio Emanuele Bridge, go through Borgo S. Spirito, and Via Della Conciliazione, which was the only itinerary allowed to reach St. Peter’s. I spent the long hours preparing my heart and my faith to meet Him Who nicknamed us, His young flock “Papaboys”.

We, His successors on earth, His bellowed young people who hurried to Him anywhere in the world to listen to Him and to be the vehicle for the diffusion of His messages all over the world. During His many travels to distant countries Karol Wojtyla realized that lots of young people assembled around Him to cheer Him and pray with Him, so He openly said He would organized WYD for mutual thanks: the Pope would thank the boys and girls for their sincere love to Him and they would thank Him for His presence there. From 1985 onwards assemblies of Papaboys met Him either in Europe or abroad: Buenos Aires (Argentina 1987), Santiago de Compostela (Spain 1989), Czestochowa (Poland 1991), Denver (Colorado – USA 1993), Manila (Philippines 1995), Paris (France 1997), Rome (Italy 2000),  and Toronto (Canada 2002). Will miss John Paul’s presence in Cologne (Germany) next August during the 20th WYD. During the meetings He talked to us as though we were His on children and recommended us to be serene, loving, good-willing, wise people, and diffusers of those values. Here below are the WYD Logos of this places.

It was midnight. 12 hours had elapsed. The lights lighted St. Peter’s Square, the Basilica, the Obelisk, Bernini’s Colonnade, the fountains and the building above St. Peter’s Square; the Pope’s window was lit but closed.

Many pilgrims around me cried at the top of their voices that the Pope should be made saint immediately after His burial. They were all looking forward to seeing the Pope’s corpse but about three hours’ waiting were still ahead of us. At last I reached the Basilica’s yard by slow steps and I was slowly getting near St. Peter’s main gate. At the dead of night, a light spring wind and dampness made Rome look like an “unreal-city” (T.S.Eliot: The Burial of the dead) waiting for my important meeting under a spring dark sky. I must confess I felt very tired but the force that had made me take such a deep decision prevailed over me and made me conscious that I was making that sacrifice out of love.

When I entered the Basilica I could not believe I had been successful. So I was both moved and incredulous for the meeting I would have within a short time. Step by step I moved along the immense, imposing, high and richly decorated nave and my eyes nearly got lost in the admiration of stuccos, cornices, marble symbols, statues as motionless as the dead Pope, losing my spirit in the boodles  aisles on both sides. The Basilica was almost empty, so I could appreciate the well polished floor, the ordered sets of votive candles flaring near the sacred chapels inside. The metallic but soft sounds of recorded hymns filled the empty space of the Basilica at night through hidden loudspeakers. Even if I could not realize where the music came from, that did not matter in such a profound moment. Only a few meters were between me and Karol’s body; He looked small in such a vast church. I stopped motionless and observe Him silently. I saw the people by me bend, knell, pray, and heard them thank Him in a low voice. It looked as if everyone had his/her own reaction, or everyone wanted to bear a personal memory of the event or everyone were aware of what ask of Him respectful of the place and moment. I was standing still and a flash-back lightened my mind.

I remembered the Pope and His importance in the world’s vicissitudes: His contribution to the fall of Berlin’s Wall, His entering a Mosque – the first in Man’s History, His laying a note at the Weeping Wall in Jerusalem, His begging pardon in the name of the Church, His miraculous escape from a deadly attempt in 1981, His long way of illness and sufferance before dying and, last but not least, His visit to Faenza, my native town.  I meditated on His illness and sufferance which could not win His tenacious spirit for many years. Actually He preferred spending those years diffusing God’s messages instead of comfortably staying in the Vatican meeting people in His apartment or greeting pilgrims from the window of His own room. I thought what a difference it was to me now that the window was mute and closed from when it was lit and open!

I wanted to remain a bit longer in front of the catafalque but the security service could not allow anybody to stay any longer. It was three a.m. All of us would not have left the place. As to me I did my best to be able to cast glances at Karol Wojtyla as I was going out through the aisle. I felt as if those few moments were eternal, belonged to eternity as our Pope did. I would have shed tears in a silent weep but I was too moved and the emotions prevented me from giving vent to the big wave of that moment’s sentiments and feelings. I realized that my faith was reinforced by meeting a man of great faith, heart, spirituality and goodness. It was time I left the Basilica. I greeted Him with a friendly Ciao (bye-bye), I arranged to meet Him in a new life and wished Heaven would reserve a place near St. Peter on the first row, that row for which John Paul fought with His believers on the earth for years.

Adieu, Karol. I will always remember you for your papacy, your gestures, your joy when meeting your Papaboys worldwide, for your efforts to unite distant people and for your strong will to contribute to stop wars wherever fought.

I am sure everybody will remember you as a spiritual guide and as a man, as one who wanted to show all His flock, His sufferance in memory of Christ’s sufferance.

When leaving the Basilica I felt a sort of sad joy for my exceptional experience but I could not proceed because many photos and leaflets at the base of the Colonnade attracted my attention. I stopped to read some of them; they were simple thoughts by children or adults, Italian and foreigners containing thanks or expression of devoted friendship for the Pope. I could read the messages or have a look at the photos at the faint light of votive candles in the rosy light of the incoming dawn. I would have liked to stop a little longer to admire St. Peter’s changing its color according to the vanishing of the daybreak’s vapors. I was not in a hurry, indeed. What I did want was to go home and tell my parents about my experience so I decided to take the train back to Faenza.

This is the end of my record of my extraordinary silent meeting with my dear Pope Wojtyla.

May this gesture of mine be helpful to those who do not live their own faith unto the utmost intensity, willing to operate what they really want to do for the best of their own souls. I do wish I could be a humble example of the saying “were there is a will there is a way”, that will that pushed me to go to Rome, wait in a queue for 15 hours, meet the number one of my faith, get back home and resume my day-in day-out life.