Water and Light

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St. Peter’s Square, as well as thousands of pilgrims visiting from around the globe, got a gentle washing today in preparation for Ven. Pope John Paul II’s beatification. And thousands more lit up the night at a candlelight vigil at Circus Maximus.

The steady drizzle during the day couldn’t extinguish the enthusiasm of the pilgrims. The line to St. Peter’s basilica snaked out the square and around Bernini’s colonnade. Vendors offering ponchos and umbrellas saved the day for many pilgrims caught unprepared (me being one of them).

The display in the square today spoke volumes about the vibrant faith of the universal Church. It was another refutation of mainstream media reports that continually, stridently sound the alarm: “The Catholic Church is losing members en masse! It’s no longer relevant! Pope John Paul II’s popularity has faded!” That would certainly be news to the crowds here, who have left homes around the world to join in celebration with brothers and sisters in faith.

There were plenty of Polish flags mixed in with those of Italy, France, Spain, the United States and the Vatican. Most of the flags had a Catholic accoutrement, whether a crucifix, a cross or an emblem of the Sacred Heart. Catholic Groups from Mexico, Norway and Germany proudly displayed their national colors on bandanas, shirts and hats.

Youth groups wearing uniform shirts and hats paraded with their homemade signs through the square, chanting their thanks for God, while singing praises of Pope John Paul.

Inside the basilica, I got the chance to speak with pilgrims from Germany and a trio of nuns wearing a blue habit, whom I thanked for their vocation. It’s still hard to conceive that I was in the building I’ve seen so many times on television. On TV it has always looked big and dramatic; in person it was even more so.

What captivated my attention most was the pilgrims’ devotion. Many of us were on our knees on the marble floor praying — before a tabernacle at one of the chapels, before the main altar under which St. Peter’s bones are interred, or simply anywhere in the most recognized house of worship in the world. One woman made her way to the exit with tears running down her face.

Once again, the universality of the Church made manifest.

Unfortunately, I was too late for the tour up the steps to the Dome. That will have to wait for another day.

There was barely enough time to catch my breath when I met up with our Rome Correspondent Edward Pentin and some of his friends for the candlelight vigil, held at the Circus Maximus in the shadow of the ruins of the Roman Senate edifice on the Palatine Hill.

As the weekend gets ready to come to fruition tomorrow, the anticipation grew still more at the vigil, where tens of thousands of the faithful heard testimonies from former papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls and John Paul’s longtime secretary Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.

Then, just when I thought my day had absorbed its fill of unforgettable moments, those in attendance prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, JP2’s favorite prayer, live via satellite all over the world. While the remote pilgrims led the decades in Polish, Spanish, Swahili, Aramaic and Portuguese, the rest of us followed in Latin. I simply can’t do it justice by describing it here. Do check out Pentin’s more comprehensive piece on the event.

The waiting is almost over.