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BY TOM WEHNER
It’s my first day in Rome. Ever.
A day of no sleep and geographic and linguistic disorientation was easily eclipsed by the mood surrounding the beatification of our beloved pope. That this trip came together like it did is nothing short of a minor miracle. (But that’s a whole ’nother story.)
I’ve seen plenty of movies with Rome and the Vatican as a backdrop, and seen hundreds of photos and heard so many stories about the place, but there really is no adequate way to describe being here, especially at a time of so much anticipation and joy.
After deplaning and getting situated at the hotel, and after a quick prayer to my patron saints (Thomas Aquinas, Matthew the Apostle, Robert Bellarmine and Francis de Sales), I took off to try to meet Church officials and colleagues from the Register, EWTN and in the Catholic media I’ve only ever met on the phone or email or Skype.
I had that feeling of eager anticipation walking to the Vatican City. Using the dome of St. Peter’s as a visual reference point (and with a pocket guide for added help), I strolled past the street vendors, the well-dressed Romans, the outdoor cafés and the fashion boutiques (and the ubiquitous beggars on every street).
I met with Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary to Archbishop Claudio Celli, the head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Msgr. Tighe, a genial Irishman, very graciously took time out of a very hectic day to chat for a while over a coffee and explain the ins and outs of Vatican events to a rookie traveler to Rome. His team is doing extraordinary work in handling all the requests (many late in coming) from the media.
During the day, I spoke with an Italian political writer who was getting credentials, as well as a reporter and cameraman from WGN in Chicago, home to a sizable Polish-Catholic population.
Just as it happened in 2005 with Pope John Paul’s death, the intense media focus has put the Church in the spotlight. With the scrutiny can come greater understanding of the Church and why it does the things it does. It’s a solid-gold teaching moment that will put more people in contact with Christ’s timeless truths.
With some of the logistical issues out of the way, I then walked into St. Peter’s Square.
All at once it was awe-inspiring, breathtaking and humbling.
There were thousands of pilgrims – in casual clothes, jackets and ties, clerics and habits – and all of them had cameras. The ground exuded Christianity. The sea of humanity, all gathered at the heart of Christendom to honor the holiness of Pope John Paul II, is impressive to say the least. And that number will continue to swell through the weekend and only grow until Sunday when we who have been blessed by John Paul’s papacy can call him Blessed.