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A Sudden Detour

Suddenly A Pilgrimage

VATICAN CITY | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [38] | Scholarship Entry

Suddenly A Pilgrimage

My death in the very likely event of a stampede would have been certain but that failed to frighten me in a fashion it ought to have as I stood, well and truly blocked from leaving even had I willed it. Unfit for the faint or the claustrophobic was my place in this crowd of nearly a million. Pressed against a praying Alice and six strangers of varying nationalities, sexes, ages and odours, with one hand holding a water bottle, I smiled and updated my Facebook status.

I owe it to a bout of peer-induced interest that I ended up there despite this event’s absence from my predetermined itinerary. There will be a crowd like never seen before Alice had said since the day she had become my roommate at the hostel. Like a contagion I contracted her excitement. By the eve of the big day, my own level of enthusiasm had surpassed hers altogether. Daybreak was to see us leave the hostel on the first metro there. Time was not to be wasted by bathing- a guideline Alice ignored with no regard for urgency.

We arrived to the sight of streets jammed with people and pavements littered with sleeping bags, sleeping people, plastic, paper and polystyrene. We arrived to the smell of rot and offensive bodily effusions and to the sound of Polish dialects. Marshals and barricades confined us to set spaces. I locked arms with Alice - the only representative of familiarity to me. The multitude engulfed us. Too short to see far ahead, only optimism kept us believing that we were approaching the venue inch by inch. A young woman pleaded with the crowd to let her through. I have lost my group she said relentlessly, a claim her audience dismissed to be believable by but the gullible. In the vicinity, a few sat right on the tarmac shielding and fanning a sweaty casualty of air deprivation with posters depicting the two people whom thousands had come to venerate.

Nothing short of wings was to get us within two hundred metres of the occasion’s epicentre. Alice, content with watching it all from a nearby public broadcast screen, bowed her dreadlocked head and solemnly began to pray. I stood surrounded by men in white collars and women in habits who were jostling as forcefully as jostling can be before it becomes unpardonable. I stood with Alice unfazed by the possibility of a stampede-induced death, attentive to how warm the belly of a crowd feels.

My Facebook status update simply read: When the Vatican canonised the Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, I was there.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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