3/9/08 10:00 PM
Day 3 in Rome does not disappoint. We slept in this morning until 7:00AM after which we had breakfast and took off for the Vatican. Gashwin wanted to get to St. Peter’s early so that we would get a seat in the Basilica. Of course we got one, however we had to wait. When we got to St. Peter’s, Mass had just started at 9AM, so we walked around the Basilica for a bit, until we found Cristofero and Elisabetta. At that point we decided to go down to the tombs of the popes.
As we slowly processed through the crypt of the popes Gashwin told stories about each pope or person buried. We passed Queen Christina, the only female found it the crypt, just before seeing the tomb of Pope JPII. We stopped to pray, and all of us were choked up a bit. We continued on, seeing the area just above St. Peter’s tomb. Afterwards we left the crypt and made our way up to the basilica, where Mass had just ended.
Vatican guards had blocked off the area for Mass so that it would not be interrupted. As we waited to get in, the crowds quickly formed and really pushed to get into the Mass. The Mass was a Novus Ordo Latin Mass celebrated by a canon of the basilica in the presence of Cardinal Commastri. The mass was packed with at least 1000 people. It ended at 11:45, so we ran outside to catch the Angelus. The crowd was amazing. It was impossible to make it to the piazza. Instead we were stuck on the side of the square and could barely see Pope Benedict. However we still received his blessing. “Greetings to all the English speaking pilgrims.” He noted the many countries present, mentioning in particular a large Polish group with flags, and a Brazilian group.
Following the Angelus, Giuseppe, Gashwin, and I left for lunch. On our way to the Metro, we found an “American Bar” in the Vecchio Borgo. There was nothing American about it. The food was cheap, but it definitely tasted cheap. The pizza was folded over and Gashwin’s pasta was horrible. It was a quick bite though, and sufficient for each of us.
After lunch, we went to Santa Croce in Gersulamme (The Holy Cross in Jerusalem). This Church is directly between two ancient pieces of the outer walls of Rome. Inside, the church is decorated in the beautiful baroque style. On the apse, you can see frescos depicting the legend of St. Helena. St. Helena found the True Cross in the Holy Land, then brought it to Rome. Underneath the apse, you can find a chapel devoted to St. Helena, and another to St. Gregory the Great. Then to the left is a small door leading to the Sacred Relics. Before entering the chamber with the relics, you find yourself in a room with the Stations of the Cross. Here each station is separated with a text from the (new) Good Friday Liturgy, written in Latin and inscribed in marble.
As we entered the chapel containing the sacred relics, three men were praying the Stations of the Cross. Behind the altar, several reliquaries could be seen. On the top shelf, several thorns were displayed between nails on each side. Then in the middle, small pieces of the wooden cross, brought to Rome by Helena were displayed in a gold cross. Finally at the bottom, the titulus was displayed. The titulus is the piece of wood above the cross saying “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” In the next room, a replica of the Shroud of Turin could be found. In this replica, you could clearly see the face of Christ, and it made you wish you were actually at Turin.
Leaving Santa Croce, we took the bus to St. John Lateran (it’s a short walk, but we were already tired). [On a side note: Before entering into St. John Lateran, I took several pictures of Gashwin, and it seemed to annoy him as they were from behind (G: Well, I don’t like my bald pate being captured so often for posterity!), so he came and as he likes to do, pretended to strangle me. So if somehow Gashwin gets arrested, I have no clue why.] We walked throughout the church, and into the surrounding cloisters. Again, every church in Rome is elaborately decorated, and this was just as beautiful. St John Lateran is the Cathedral of Rome. In other words, it is the Pope’s church. Under the altar, according to tradition, is the table St. Peter used to celebrate Mass. The heads of Sts. Peter and Paul are in reliquaries above the baldachino covering the high altar.
Outside St. John Lateran, we walked to the Baptistry, where the baptisms are performed for the Cathedral. As we entered, a baptism was going on. How amazing, we saw the newest member of the Church today! A small infant was baptized in this octagonal building with people from many nations looking on. In addition, Gashwin noted that they were about to begin the Third Scrutiny for the catechumens of the Diocese of Rome. As it was going on 4, we quickly glanced into the Sancta Scala, the stairs on which Jesus was said to have gone before Pilate. (They were brought from the Holy Land to Rome.) We then made our way back to St. Peter’s for Solemn Vespers. As we arrived, we attempted to go through security. Gashwin made it successfully through, however a man with a bulky coat stepped between him, Giuseppe and I. Of course, the man refused to take off his coat and set off the alarm. The gendarme stopped him and told him to take out his metal and go back through. He takes out a cd player and continues through, only to set it off again. He keeps going through at least 4 or 5 times, yet he still sets it off, and keeps removing things from his pockets. Rather than pull off his coat, he continuously sets off the alarm. Finally he removes a giant set of keys, quite like those of a janitor, and she wands him and lets him in. How insane!!!
As we entered the Basilica, the left half was roped off and the entire nave was lit. Solemn vespers had just started with a procession of the cross as the Litany of the Saints was prayed. Gashwin, Giuseppe and I joined the procession and were fortunate enough to get a seat. Then following Vespers, a procession was made to just beyond the high altar, where in one of the overhead balconies, the veil of Veronica was brought out, displayed for a moment and then returned. How rare is it to see the face of Christ twice in one day!!! Then in good Gashwin fashion, he quickly whips out his camera and grabs a picture, while just finishing evening prayer. Gashwin just can’t disappoint. To prove this, as we walk outside of the Basilica, we run into another of Gashwin’s friends. Fr. R was standing outside and picked him out of nowhere. Incredible!!!
We left the Vatican for the second time, and this time chose to go to the Spanish steps for a quick bite. [On the Metro, I happened to sit next to a priest praying his office in French. Once he finished I tried to tell him about the Veil of Veronica, but he thought I said we were going to the Vatican, so he thought we missed our stop. Anyways, it was neat talking to him, and it turns out that he lives in Rome and is from Vietnam.] At the Spanish steps, no quick bite was to be found, but the impressive steps were certainly there. Unfortunately the obelisk at the top is currently under repair, so we walked to the Piazza del Popolo. On our way there we walked down a shady alley with a Chinese restaurant and an English bookstore. Then just before entering the piazza, a group of Mormons was singing. One started talking to us and asking us where we were from. I was quite tempted to say that we were checking out Gashwin’s new digs at the Vatican Seminary [G: HA!] however he left us quickly once he figured we knew who they were.
Crossing the piazza, we were very fortunate to enter Santa Maria del Popolo, which was still open since Mass had just let out. Inside are two famous works of Caravaggio, “St. Paul’s Conversion on the Road to Damascus,” and “St. Peter’s Crucifixion.” Outside we took several night shots of the piazza, while an English mother yelled at her child saying, “Michael, did you say mi scusi? Go tell that man mi scusi.” I thought it was very funny.
Now it was close to 7:30, and all of us were hungry, so we went to yet another great American food joint. Here a Big Mac Meal costs $9, or 6 Euro. Instead of the dollar menu, they have the Savaeuro menu. Ketchup costs 0.10 Euro. We toasted with chocolate milkshakes and spoke in loud southern accents, just so that we could feel at home. Inside the McDo were several posters saying “Enjoy,” “Smile,” or “Easy,” (G: they looked like A& F models, except clothed) in English, we had to laugh at the poster entitled “Laught.”
Since then, we have returned to our hotel and are now ready for bed. Gashwin has already fallen asleep, leaving me to recount these tales with Giuseppe. It is rather difficult to remember the names of places, let alone their spellings. However today was quite enjoyable and several new quotes have been made. Here are a few of them.
“A Smart car makes a Bug (Volkswagon Beetle) look like an Escalade.”
“In the U.S., the speed limit is enforced like taxes on a pricelist.
You can do 75-77 in a 70mph zone, just as the menu says 5 dollars, you pay $5.50.” [G: That’s a quote from my friend Paul.]
“If I had a five dollar bill for every church I entered, this trip would pay for itself.”