Waking up in St. Peter’s Square feels like a dream. If you plan on going to the canonization, you’re not going to sleep the night before, so it’s not actually a dream. You head to St. Peter’s Square in the wee hours of the morning and pray for a miracle to find a way into the Square before a million people try to do the same thing. It’s like you’re on a secret mission from God and you’re livin’ on a prayer.
If you want to get into the Square or get anywhere close to the action, you’ve got to get in before dark and plan to stand in the same spot for the next 8-9 hours. Yes, that means no bathroom breaks, no food trucks, and no coffee – which I guess, makes it a pilgrimage… which is fitting.
This is what I experienced on Saturday night/Sunday morning with Catholic Vote’s own Kara Mone. We were blessed to have the opportunity to attend the canonization on Sunday, and even more blessed to have a front-row seat to the action. No joke:
Divine Mercy Sunday was a historic day for many reasons. It was the first-time in history that two Pope’s were canonized on the same day. It was also the first canonization Mass to be concelebrated by two Popes – Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. And it has been reported that there were anywhere between one to two million people gathered in Rome on Sunday. What a historic day for the Church.
The buzz in Rome was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Probably the closest thing to it would be attending a World Youth Day. (Note: The next one is in Krakow, Poland in 2016.)
People of all ages traveled from all over the world to attend the Mass where John XXIII and John Paul II would be named Saints of the Church. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims slept on the streets of Rome and many held all-night vigils, as they awaited the great announcement of two new Saints – both of whom had been a part of the lives of many in attendance.
The older generation knew both Popes, while John Paul II was a mainstay in the lives of the young people in attendance, mostly due to the fact that he was the only Pope we had known for many years. I, for one, had JPII as Pope for the first 20 years of my life, before Benedict XVI became Pope.
John Paul II was a hot topic over the past few weeks, especially because he was the most recent of the two Popes, but both Popes brought much to the Church, each in their own particular way. Pope John XXIII is known for convening the Second Vatican Council and profoundly impacting the practice of the faith. Pope John Paul II is known for being the “Pope of the people”. He connected with young people in a special way and was able to reach out to the secular world during some very difficult times in the world. Pope John XXIII brought the people deeper into the heart of the Church, whereas Pope John Paul II brought the Church deeper into the heart of the world.
The whole day was a joyous celebration in St. Peter’s Square, even though the majority of participants hadn’t slept the night before. The Vatican orchestra cued up the music just before 10am, and then the real celebration began.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was the first to enter, to which the crowd erupted with cheers and chants of “Benedicto!” He was beaming with smiles and we were thrilled to see Papa Benny once again. Then, Pope Francis processed in, to which the crowd erupted again with cheers and applause. One of my favorite moments of the whole morning was when Pope Benedict greeted Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:
It brought tears to everyone’s eyes, and the crowd erupted in cheers – again. I don’t know what it was about this moment, but it was really powerful to witness.
The pinnacle of the whole event was obviously when the sainthood of John XXIII and John Paul II was announced. The crowd went insane, with cheers and screams of excitement. The Church recognized and welcomed two more amazing Saints.
The whole event was so moving and inspiring, much of it is difficult to describe in full. But, overall it was an experience of a lifetime.
The beautiful thing about being Catholic, though, is that we all experienced the same Mass on Sunday. We all heard the same readings and participated in this great event, no matter where we were.
I was in St. Peter’s Square and feel tremendously blessed to have had that opportunity, but you were there as well… even if you were a million miles away. We all participated in the same Mass and the same celebration, which welcomed two more Saints to the great Litany of Saints.
I encourage all of you to take some time to watch some of the full coverage here. I’ll warn you that it’s long (3.5 hours), but it’s well worth any time you can spend to watch it.
And if you want to see some of the coverage, which features Kara Mone and I, check this few minute segment from WDIV in Detroit: