I was so excited, I woke up at 5:00 AM before my alarm even went off. No reason to stay in bed. Today is the big day. I have been in Rome for a week. I know how things work. I know where to go. No one is going to beat me from prime seats to get to see the pope at his weekly Papal Audience. I’m going to take the best pictures possible!
So, I throw on my clothes and make my way to the Metro. The sky turns a beautiful navy as the sun rises, and by 6:00 I’m standing in a line that will open at 8:30. I still wasn’t at the front of the line, but I felt OK. There was a group of people from an Italian diocese whose bishop was making his Ad Linea visit, which is something bishops do every 5 years to stay in communication with the Holy See.
I felt good about being with this group. The last two times I had waited in line to see the pope, the process was exasperating. You stand for hours and hours, only to have the crowd squeeze harder and harder, at an exponential rate proportional to how many minutes remain till the gates open. Nuns are the worse. They somehow permeate through the crowd to get to the front of the line. It is a sight to behold, bearing the resemblance of cellular osmosis.
Today though, I am with a crowd which serves as a strong buffer against predatory line pushers. The other good news, the people around me are mostly over 50. I know it is cruel, but I get two hours to concentrate on my game plan. “I’m sure I can outrun that priest, he’s got to be pushing 60. Still got to watch out for those nuns though, they’re savage.”
The gates open and I’m off. Put my bag through security and run through the metal detector. Good! Freed from all metal, I didn’t need a second check. Waiting... Waiting. “Come on mister X-Ray man! I want to see the pope! By this time everyone else is on their way.” In my mind I am comparing the previous experiences I have had. Every 5 seconds waiting in security is sixteen rows back you have to sit if you want an aisle seat. “Hurry it up. I don’t have a bomb already!” Got it! Grab the bag and run! Run! Run! Wait? Where am I running?
I’m the first one through security running like a chicken with his head cut off through Piazza S. Pietro. This is crazy. I’m it! I’m the leader. Not to be foiled for foolishness. I keep running. Running up, farther than I thought I’d get. I run to a Swiss Guard. I show him my ticket. “Let me in” I think as I catch my breath.
He looks at me as if I were an idiot. “What are you doing?” He seems to say, and the points the other direction. “Huh?” I think. “I’m the first one here, why will you not let me in?” He points again. Oh… there are better seats two sections a head that I’m allowed to take. He points again and says “Go that way!” I turn back, still in the lead. My American friends that I met in line have just cleared security. They have pre-arranged seats, but they see me and yell “Run David! Run!” I think to myself “What am I? Forest Gump?” Finally, I reach the front section as far as they will let me go. Whew!
If you have downloaded Google Earth onto your computer, you can see the pictures I took of the Papal Audience on April 11 by clicking here. You may have already seen them if you have downloaded any of the previous pictorials from previous papal events at St. Peter’s, but now you know where they come from. They wouldn’t let us sit in the very front row which was reserved.
The last several papal events, it was pretty easy to figure out what to do. You just kept running and followed the crowd. No problem, but being a leader is different. I’ve been a leader in many different scenarios, Scout camp, school clubs, theater, work, and so on. All that leadership experience, and I’ve never been at the head of the pack in a giant arena such as St. Peter’s, leading, all the while knowing that there are 45,000 people waiting behind you. No wonder the Swiss Guard looked at me like I was an idiot. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. I had no one to follow.
In an old movie about Christopher Columbus, one of Columbus’ critics says to him condescendingly, “Someone would have found India (America) through the West eventually.” In the movie, Columbus then takes a hard boiled egg, and asks if the man can get the egg to stand upright on its end. The man tries, and fails. He says, “It is impossible.” To which Columbus takes the egg and smashes one end of it, getting the egg to stand upright, on its end. Columbus replies “Anything is easy once someone has shown you how to do it.”
The world is changing at an enormous rate. To my knowledge, no one has ever made a pilgrimage to the holy sites of the world through 35 countries, in one year. I keep reminding people that ten years ago, it would never have been possible. In fact, twenty-five years ago, before globalization really became a dominant force in the global economy, perhaps there wasn’t even a reason to do it. I often feel like I make stupid little mistakes along the way, because I’m not following a crowd, and there is no one leading me. That is, except Christ. Christ, very much like the Swiss Guard, laughs at me and says, “What are you doing? Go that way!” Which is sort of humorous to me.
Today, I went to see the pope. He is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. I have to admit that, perhaps the job isn’t that easy. There isn’t any sort of crowd directing him which way to turn. I honestly had very mixed feelings about the pope. I was skeptical about his appointment two years ago, given the bullish nature of his previous position in the Vatican. I sat back and decided to give him a chance. I am glad I did because I think he has done a fantastic job of being pope. I mean, who would really want to be pope after John Paul II?
I acknowledge too that he is our spiritual father. That is a good image for us, if we can see it in the right way. I have a biological father who is quite a loving man. Over the course of the years, I have discovered what a great man he is. I have also discovered that I don’t always agree with him, but the lack of agreement doesn’t change our relationship. He is still my father, and I love and honor him. Simple as that. I feel very much the same way about the pope. The question was never, “Do I like what he says, or dos he serve me well?” He is my spiritual father on Earth, good or bad. And after today, I have to have a little bit of sympathy for him. It is never easy being out in front, serving as a leader. I’m sure he has many moments in which he runs up to the wrong gate, and God looks at him, and with a gleeful quirk says “Go that way!”