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Looking around Do you know that kids show 'Go outside' with the woman and her collie in the biplane? I took her message very much to heart.

The Pope

UNITED KINGDOM | Sunday, 28 June 2015 | Views [222]

We had planned to get to Rome on the 28th of June so we could catch Pope Francis’ last appearance in Vatican City before he went on tour to South America. We’d done St Francis of Assissi’s tomb and we’d done the Shroud of Turin, but no pilgrimage of Italy would be complete without a blessing from the main man. So we booked an early morning train from quiet Perugia to bustling Rome. He would be giving Sunday mass at 12 o’clock and our train got into Rome Centrale at around 10, giving us plenty of time to get the metro across town, fetch the keys for our apartment, maybe stop for a quick sit down, drop off our bags and stroll to St Peter’s. But the best laid plans of mice and men, and backpackers, gang aft a-gley to paraphrase my old pal, Rabbie. We thought when the kind woman at our hostel in Perugia had remembered to book us a taxi at 6 am to catch our train we were set. We thought when we arrived in Rome without any delays we were golden. And even when we under estimated the distance from the San Pietro metro station to our apartment, had to stop to get Google map directions from a friendly female police officer, and walk for 35 minutes at a snail’s pace, up hill in thirty degree heat with our bags, and it didn’t significantly delay us we were absolutely positive we would make it to get blessed by the Pope.

It was 11:00 when we got to the apartment and were let in by our friendly landlord Sergio. We were staying in Rome for a week, and since we’d lived cheaply for the last week and a bit we decided to spend extra and live like real Roman’s. Sergio showed us around, gave us his number, the keys and most importantly the wifi password and then left us. We threw our bags on the floor, guzzled a glass of water and even had time for a quick sit down and a cheeky cigarette. I took the key whilst my friend was getting ready and went out into the little courtyard of our semi-subterranean flat to unlock the thick metal security gate and head back out onto the street, and into the heavy Roman sun. But when I turned the key in the lock and pulled on the door it wouldn’t open. Was this the right key? I tried the other key despite knowing it was for the front door. Certain I had the right key originally I tried again. And again. I yanked, I pulled, I twisted but nothing. The door would not move. I called to my friend that we were locked in. I checked my watch, it was 11:46, time was ticking but if we left now and walked quickly we’d make it. We tried using the intercom buzzer inside the flat, to see if that would unlock it, but no luck. The door was stuck.

We decided Sergio would know what to do and immediately set to contacting him. Our best way to do this was with Whatsapp, since there we no charges. Unfortunately neither of us had Whatsapp. So we had to download it. I looked at my watch again 11:50. Okay, we would have to run even if we left now. 11:55, we could still catch some of it. 12:05, we might still catch the end? As my friend watched the always slow download bar on her phone creep to the finish line I was sitting outside puffing away on endless cigarettes to diffuse my impatience. As I sat there I heard the sounds of a shrill, panicky American voice. It was a young guy, on the phone to his mother I presumed, nervously telling her how he had arrived at his apartment late and the art group he was meant to be living with were no longer there to let him in and he didn’t know what to do. I felt an affinity with him. He was my kind of worrier, with my kind of rotten luck. My friend called to me from inside to tell me Sergio said the door was just a bit stiff. She took the key off of me and gave it a go. With a simultaneous twist and shove the heavy door flew open. We had missed the pope, because I didn’t know how to open a door.

But at least we were free. We decided to leave and go for a stroll down to St Peter’s anyway. I popped my head out of the gate and saw the American boy standing forlornly in the crushing midday sun. I couldn’t leave him to his fate. I asked him if he’d like to leave his suitcases in our apartment and come with us for a walk down to Vatican City to see if the pope was still there, rather than stand in the hot sun. He thanked us and happy for the company, tagged along. When we got to square the crowds of people were just dispersing. We had just missed him, a few minutes and we’d have seen him. By this time I had gotten over the disappointment. The square was full of excited people. Romans, pilgrims, activists, tourists. It was a cacophony of noise and colour glittering in the sunshine. The square itself is breath taking. The fountains shooting sparklingly clear water into the blue sky, the giant pillars that surround the piazza like loving arms embracing you, the huge dome of the basilica. The pope had been delivering a speech on climate change and there were environmental activists with banners. One guy was holding a sign in blue and gold that read “Solar Power is from the heavens” and he waved it around with happy glee. We walked about and watched as the crowds slowly dissolved and then, hungry and hot we decided to head back to the flat, stopping at a Carrefour we’d spied on the way, to buy some lunch and some ice lollies and other provisions for a week ahead. Andrew, our temporary companion bumped into his art group on the way home and was able to head off in the right direction with his people whilst my friend and I had some well-deserved lunch.

The next morning, we were walking back to St Peter’s so we could walk down to the Castle San’Angelo when heard the sound of loud speaker. We quick stepped into the square to see what was going on and low and behold, a white dot stood high up in a window of the Vatican. It was the pope! I gave my Italian skills a real test as I strained to hear what Pope Francis was saying, and then translate as quickly as possible. Apparently, the 29th of June was St Peters and St Pauls day, the patron saints of Rome, and to celebrate the occasion the pope was giving an extra appearance and later there would be fireworks at the Castle San’Angelo. He wished us all well and gave the few lucky tourists and well informed Romans on the square a quick blessing and disappeared back from his balcony to recorded shouts of “Viva Papa” on the speakers. We walked further into the square and caught sight of Bishop Desmund Tutu, with an entourage of nuns, posing for selfies which we were too hesitant to ask for and almost bumped into a cardinal, one we didn’t know the name of, strolling about carelessly. My friend gave me this ‘I told you so look’. She was a big believer in things happening for a reason and right then it was difficult to disagree with her. Our plans had amounted to nothing, but we had accidently arrived in Rome in time for a festival and left the house at the exact right time to not only be blessed by the pope but be informed about a little shindig he was throwing at the castle San’Angelo. The best laid plans indeed.

 

Tags: blessing, desmund tutu, pope francis, rome, st peters and st pauls day, vatican city

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