Thursday, April 19, 2012

Christmas in Italy: Christmas Eve in Rome (& Midnight Mass with the Pope!)

Christmas Eve!  It was finally here!  We munched on our hotel's breakfast while listening to classic Christmas songs and anticipating our big day.  First stop on the agenda: the Vatican Museum! 

After having a little trouble finding the entrance (it's actually around the corner and down the street from Saint Peter's Basilica...who knew?  Well...I guess I should have known since I had been there before...but my teenage mind must've been more focused on boys and gelato...) we finally stumbled upon it, along with a loooong line.  We were able to cut ahead a little since we bought our tickets in advance on-line, but still had to mill through crowds and crowds of people and endless security checks. 

Once inside, we quickly breezed through the museum, as is custom for the toddler-toting Beaudoin's.  We stopped only when necessary and continually tried to convince Peter that this was a reeeaaally fun activity.  He didn't buy it. 

We walked under the ornate, golden ceilings and past the beautiful paintings until we reached the Sistine Chapel.  So beautiful!  No pictures allowed inside the chapel though!

The Beaudoin's at the Vatican Museum with St. Peter's Basilica in the background
After the Vatican Museum, we grabbed some lunch and stopped inside of Saint Peter's Basilica again (we couldn't resist!).  It would soon be closing for the afternoon to prepare for Midnight Mass. We took a shot of the Papal altar where Mass would be celebrated that night.

Since the line for Midnight Mass had not started to form yet, we decided to spend a few hours exploring Rome before returning to Saint Peter's Basilica. When we got off of the metro, it began to rain! Before long, the little sprinkles turned into a downpour. We stopped by a street vendor and reluctantly bought two unbrellas (ours were at the hotel). We continued on our journey to the Trevi Fountain. The rain let up enough for us to take some pictures and toss a coin into the fountain.

It is said that if you toss a coin into the fountain, you'll be able to return to Rome one day. It worked the first time I was there as a 16 year-old, so it was worth a shot to try it again!

Do we get bonus points for doing it with style and flair? : )

Next, we had a decision to make.  Dan had a few more stops he wanted to hit on his itinerary, but it was starting to sprinkle again and Peter was getting hungry.  We decided to divide and conquer.  Dan would conquer his list of stops.  Meanwhile, I found a warm, dry cafe with Peter and helped him conquer a cheeseburger and hot chocolate.  (The  hot chocolates in Italy are intensely thick and rich, by the way.  It tasted like a warm, oozing river of melted chocolate.  I didn't complain.) 

While Peter and I were snacking on Italy's delicious indulgences, Dan explored more of Rome.  First he stopped at the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, which is built over an old temple of Minerva.  Saint Catherine of Siena is buried here.  Next, he visited the Pantheon, which was the largest concrete structure in the world until the 20th Century.  It was built by the Romans as a temple to all of the gods, then later converted into a church. 

Soon, Dan picked us up from the cafe and we made one more little stop before arriving at Saint Peter's Basilica.  We stopped at the Basilica of the Twelve Holy Apostles.  The tomb of the Apostles St. Philip and St. James the Less is located inside of the basilica!  We arrived to find that the basilica was closed and would not open for another 30 minutes.  We stood at the gate, a little deflated, when it suddenly started raining again and Peter began holding his stomach and crying.  Dan and I looked at the "closed" sign and then at our seemingly sick child and both felt a little defeated and overwhelmed. 

As always, God was taking care of us.  A friar who worked at the basilica unlocked the gate and hurried us inside to a parlor room.  He gestured for us to sit on the soft couches with our crying boy.  He disappeared for a moment, then returned with some delicious chocolates.  He smiled, and with his limited English, he pointed to us and said "like the Holy Family...on Christmas Eve".  My eyes filled up with tears and I wanted to hug this kind stranger.  Though we are far from being comparable to the Holy Family, I felt like I could relate a little more to Joseph and Mary's suffering as they searched in the night, far from home, for shelter on the first Christmas Eve.  My exhaustion and overwhelmed feelings soon lessened thanks to the generosity of this kind soul and a soft couch to rest on.  Peter soon stopped crying as well, and seemed to not be sick after all.  Praise God!  Soon, the doors of the Basilica of the Twelve Holy Apostles were opened and we had the chance to visit the tomb of Sts. Philip and James and ask for their prayers. 

It was very exciting to visit the final resting place of St. Philip, specifically.  In December of 2010 we traveled to Pamukkale, Turkey (the ancient city of Hieropolis) and saw the remains of a great basilica built on top of the hill where St. Philip was crucified.  It was amazing to finally visit the Apostle and see the place where his remains came to rest.
The tomb of Saints Phillip and James the Less

Next, feeling revived and reenergized, we took off for our great adventure: Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at the Vatican!  We wanted to arrive extra early.  Though we did already have tickets, which ensured we could join the Holy Father for Mass, those tickets did not guarantee where we would be.  The hearty pilgrims that braved the long wait in line had a chance at being inside of Saint Peter's Basilica for Mass.  Once the basilica filled up, the remaining ticket-holders had to stand outside in Saint Peter's Square and watch the Mass on large screens.  We eagerly rushed to Saint Peter's to grab a spot in line and begin our long wait, hoping for a chance to be inside of the basilica!

Upon arriving at Saint Peter's Square, we immediately felt a rush of adrenaline.  It was already filled with people and a long line had formed--approximately 2000 people were already in line!  In the center of the square was a life-sized Nativity Scene with a children's choir singing Christmas songs.  The square was alive with excitement and Christmas spirit!  We grabbed our spot in line and were happy to discover that we were right behind four other young Americans.  It's always reassuring to find other Americans when in a foreign country, and we quickly bonded with our fellow pilgrims.  We eagerly debated whether or not we would have a chance at getting inside the basilica for Mass. 

It was around 5:00 pm.  The doors to the basilica would open around 8:30 pm.  "Midnight Mass" actually began at 10:00 pm, rather than midnight, which was so very nice considering we'd be attending with our two year old!  Our waiting time in line had begun.  Dan saved our spot in line while I let Peter walk around the square, exploring the manger scene, the choir, and the fountains. 

 Suddenly, I heard some commotion.  I looked up to see movement and light in the window of the Pope's apartment!  Pope Benedict appeared and the crowd errupted into cheering.  He gave the crowd his blessing and placed a lit candle in the window sill, a symbol that he was with us in spirit as we waited outside on that chilly December Christmas Eve.  I held Peter and excitedly pointed up to the Pope.  I was overcome with a rush of unexpected emotion.  I felt a lump in my throat and tears welled up in my eyes.  I felt a great love for our Holy Father.  I felt a great gratitude for the unceasing prayers he has offered for the Church and his unwavering courage to stand by our Church's counter-cultural and often times unpopular teachings.  Undoubtedly, there is much suffering and sacrifice that is required of our Pope.  I could just feel the love he has for his flock, the Church. 

After seeing the Pope, I rushed back to see Dan in line.  The Pope's appearance had fueled our excitement even more!  I saved our spot in line while Dan took Peter to find some panini's at a nearby cafe.  Our time in line went fairly quickly, and before long it was 7:45 pm.  We decided to stay in line together and stake out our spot, just in case the doors opened early.  Peter had been a happy camper (Praise God!) and we prayed that God would continue to give Him extra graces to continue his excellent behavior.  It began to sprinkle again, so we put Peter back in his stroller, propped up the umbrella, and popped an Elmo DVD into our portable DVD player.  He was waiting in style!

Around 8:30 pm, we began to see commotion at the front of the line.  We all eagerly scooched closer to the person in front of us and peered eagerly to the front.  They let the first large group in, our line scooted up a bit, then we waited.  This repeated several more times.  The suspense and excitement were building.  Would we make it inside of Saint Peter's Basilica for Christmas Eve Mass?!  We would soon find out!

Finally, we were getting close to the front.  We clutched our bags close to us, ready to move forward when we were given the signal.  We had heard that it gets a little chaotic trying to get in (think Black Friday at Walmart times one thousand), so we held Peter tightly as our hearts pounded with excitement and adrenaline.  Suddenly, the security guards let the next section start to move through the security stations.  This is it!  "Let's go!  Stay close!"  announced our American "line buddies" and together we moved forward as quickly as we could, as others tried to push and cut in line.  We pushed through security, then, almost in triumphant slow motion, handed our tickets to the security guard.  He checked our tickets and motioned for us to go ahead.  We did it! 

We rushed ahead to check the stroller at the baggage check and then ran up the stairs to the front doors of the basilica to claim our seats.  We were giddy with excitement as we raced into the basilica past the Swiss Guards and found three seats right in the middle.  It was completely unreal to sit inside of Saint Peter's Basilica, anticipating Midnight Mass.

BIG smiles as we waited for Midnight Mass to begin!

Midnight Mass was incredible!  It felt like Heaven on earth.  We eagerly watched the grand procession of seminarians, priests, bishops, and cardinals enter with the grand music echoing through the church, announcing the birth of our Savior.  Peter excitedly pointed "Look!  Fathers!  Bishops!"  Finally, we saw Pope Benedict enter.  Our Holy Father smiled serenely as he blessed the crowd. 

Christmas Mass was absolutely beautiful.  The prayers and readings were spoken in Latin, Italian, English, Korean, and French; a beautiful reminder of our Universal Church.  Peter slept through most of the Mass, another wonderful blessing from God!  Peter awoke just in time to see the Pope process out at the closing of the Mass.  The Pope placed the Baby Jesus in the manger scene in the basilica and exited. 

Pope Benedict among the crowd of pilgrims

The back of the basilica as Pope Benedict left.  There were so many people!

Peter excitedly repeated "Baby Jesus Born!" and "More Pope Ne'nict!" over and over as we left the basilica.  It was a little after midnight and we had one more challenge for the day.  The metro system was now closed for Christmas, and we had heard that it was nearly impossible to find a taxi since there were thousands of others that were also looking for a ride.  It would take over an hour to walk to our hotel.  We placed it in God's hands and asked Him to help us. 

"What should we do?"  I asked Dan, a little nervously. 
"Let's just start walking, it'll be okay" he replied confidently.

So we walked.  And prayed.  And trusted (or at least tried really hard to trust and not worry!).  And within 10 minutes, a taxi appeared!  Almost in shock, we waved it down.  Did God really send us a taxi?  As we walked to the taxi, a pushy Italian woman jumped ahead of us and tried to get into our cab.  My heart sank.  The taxi driver, suddenly animated, yelled "Occupado!  Occupado!  Bambino!"  (Referring to the cab belonging to us and our little bambino, Peter.)  God is good!  God, in His immense love, provides for us even in the smallest details.

We were soon driving back to our hotel.  What another beautiful example of God's providential care for us!  As we drove back to the hotel, I reflected on the incredible day.  This was a Christmas I will never forget. 

1 comment:

  1. Sarah, that was the most beautiful post yet! I am sitting here crying at the kindness of strangers, especially the part about the friar. What a gift you've given Peter to go back and read all the details from your travels! Annie