Thursday, December 25, 2008

So, through the embassy, Allyson and I scored tickets to Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. But when we showed up at St. Peter's Square around nine o'clock last night, the scene was, in typical Roman fashion, utter chaos. Lines everywhere, nobody quite sure what they were lined up for. Every time we asked a cop (or Swiss Guard) which line we should be in, we got a different answer. And most of the people in line had no tickets, and didn’t even seem to realize tickets were required.

We walked toward what we thought was the front of a line to do some investigating when, suddenly and unexpectedly, the line began to move forward. Pandemonium ensued. It reminded me of that time I saw the Grateful Dead at the Meadowlands in 1985, when I was nearly swept off my feet by the crush of the crowd when the gates opened. It was kind of scary. Definitely not a spiritual experience. And now I know what the Hajj must feel like.

We were, however unintentionally, butting in line. It was a venial sin, but nothing compared to the unholy things that were shouted at us by the unfortunates we’d butted in front of. (In purgatory, this will all be a wash.) (Hopefully.) Our ill-gotten reward was an excellent seat, as close to the front as the plebs get, and close to the aisle. When the pope entered the basilica, I shot this short video:

The mass itself was, well, long. Two hours. It was said in numerous languages, though mostly Latin and Italian. I’d estimate that about half the congregation were devout Catholics. The rest were tourists. A young lady two rows in front of us was text messaging throughout the homily. Unlike a lot of other congregants, I was a little self-conscious about taking pictures during mass, but I did manage to snap this shot:

Like all good Catholics, we snuck out during communion. Outside, I was surprised to see hundreds, maybe thousands more people standing in the cold, watching the mass on giant television screens erected in the square.

It was truly a remarkable experience. Once in a lifetime, as they say - but that’s all I need. Next year I think we’ll just go to the little church around the corner for Midnight Mass. No tickets required!

Buon Natale dear friends and family! Today, as every day, you are in our thoughts and prayers.

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