Last night friends Joseph and Marie Cabaud Meaney hosted us for a lovely dinner at their home outside of Rome. It was so wonderful to see familiar faces, and to feel their goodness and friendship. Joseph works for Human Life International. Marie studied with us in Liechtenstein, and taught for awhile with Jules at Villanova. She's an expert on Simone Weil, and writes for us sometimes. Her father and mother were in the von Hildebrand circle in NYC. I wish I had thought to take a picture!
We got back to our apartment late. Then my alarm went off at 6:15. This is not normal for me. A cup of coffee, and Jules and I were off on bicycles through the still-dark streets of Rome, letting the boys sleep in. We arrived at St. Peter's right on time, as the sun came up and the bells rang 7:00 a.m. Cousin Fr. Bob had told us to meet him by the Swiss guards in Piazza Uffizi, just to the left of the Basilica.
Reader, we couldn't get there. The place was one gigantic mass of humanity. Thousands and thousands of pilgrims were cramming up against the barriers all around the square, in the hope of getting a seat at the Wednesday audience with the Pope set to begin two hours later.
We jumped the barriers and tried desperately to make our way forward, but the police were not understanding about this, and we were promptly escorted back to the crowd.
We reached Bob by email. Jules stood on the base of one of the columns. They could see each other over the throng and wave. But there was just no getting through. No moving forward at all. By this time the square had opened, but the entire crowd had to pass one by one through a security machine. This made them all push ahead more urgently. Finally, we decided to forget the idea of Mass in the Basilica and meet for coffee outside the crowd. Bob worked his way along the buildings on one side of the street, we worked our way along the another, until we met. "This is the Francis effect," he said. But he also said, "I've never seen it quite like this."
We went for coffee at a shop run by third order Franciscans. They lit up when they saw Bob. "Bonjourno, Padre!" Bob said they love him because he brought Cardinal O'Malley there once or twice. The Italians love Cardinal O'Malley. They open their hearts to all things Franciscan—to poverty, humility, simplicity, kindliness, holiness.
After coffee, Bob took us into the Basilica through a back way. It was too late for us to do Mass there, but we could wander through its overwhelming, sacred immensity almost alone. We have been there before, but not without the chaos of crowds. We stopped at the tomb of JP II—too briefly to do more than take a picture and inwardly offer him our love and intentions. But it was a great gift to be there that way, in such peace and quiet.
Standing beside my cousin there, I had a flashback to our grandmother's living room and the annual Christmas photo. She died when I was only 8. But I know she's praying for her grandchildren from heaven.
Bob said he would say Mass for us in the chapel of the CDF instead. We had to pause at door leading there, to let a line of priests and bishops and cardinals pass ahead of us. Bob said, "There's Cardinal Pell."
The palazzo that houses the CDF is lovely—simple and unpretentious.
Its chapel is intimate and beautiful. The three of us had it to ourselves.
We didn't have a lectionary, so we read the readings with the help of our Magnificat app. At the prayer of the faithful, we offered prayers for all our friends and family—everyone we love, all our children and godchildren, everyone who needs prayers.
Emerging from the CDF at 10:00 a.m., we found the square still massed with pilgrims. Greetings in German were coming over the loudspeakers. (I'm sorry I didn't get a better picture.)
My heart was so lifted with hope by the whole experience—hope for us, hope for the Church.
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.