Tuesday greetings from Chicago, where the rain is falling and the temperatures are plummeting.
Another Italy story for you.
A week ago Sunday, through the kindness of Peter Bahou of Peter's Way Tours, my parents and I were able to see and hear the pope's Sunday Angelus from a rooftop garden across Saint Peter's Square. Absolutely beautiful day.
As soon as Pope Francis began to speak, I felt the tears come to my eyes. So many emotions as I recalled the joys I have experienced as a Roman Catholic as well as the pains that many, including me, have felt. But there was one sense that was overwhelming to me as Pope Francis spoke: hope.
After the exhilaration of hearing the pope, we made our way to Piazza Navona for lunch. To say that Rome was mobbed with Italians and tourists alike would be an understatement. It was a holiday weekend for Italians and it seemed every Italian citizen was in Rome that day, by the hundreds of thousands! We sat outside, next to a delightful couple from Alabama, Connie and Herb. Connie was what my mother would call "a hot ticket." She just simply sparkled! They asked us if we were Catholics and we told them about the Angelus and they told us that they had been to Mass and confession at Saint Peter's that morning. We took up Herb's suggestion and drank some fine Italian beer and then parted ways with handshakes, kisses, and hugs.
On Tuesday morning, through the kindness of a wonderful friend who works at the Vatican, my parents and I were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Our friend drove us around inside Vatican City, where we passed the Santa Marta residence, where Pope Francis lives. He then led us inside a side door and then we found ourselves in the sacristy of Saint Peter's Basilica. Our friend vested for Mass, then led us into the basilica. I could sense the fact that my parents were stunned as I heard then gasp as we turned the corner and there, before us, was the main altar. Father brought us to the altar of Saint Thomas. He summoned someone to bring two chairs over for my aging parents and he began to celebrate Mass for us. I was the lector and the day was November 4, the feast of Saint Charles Borromeo, the patron of our home parish in Woburn, Massachusetts. It was just one of those God-given moments when all time seemed to be suspended. In his homily, Father talked about my parents' marriage and what a sign it is for the Church.
I asked Father when it would be appropriate to take photographs and he told me we could pose for photos after Mass. So, there I stood, with my camera, taking photos of my parents with our dear friend. I began to lament the fact that no one was there to take a photo of all four of us when, out of nowhere, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. I turned around and the woman simply said, "Jerry, I am here to take the photos of you and your parents, Henri and Yvette; now get up there." Since the basilica had not yet officially opened to the public for the day, Father asked the woman, "How did you get in here?" She replied, "Oh, never mind that, Father, I am here to take this photo of the four of you." Stunned, I walked up to the altar and stood proudly with my parents and our dear friend.
I came back down to retrieve my camera from Connie from Alabama, whom we had met among the hundreds of thousands in Rome two days before in Piazza Navona. Herb was sitting in a chair and simply smiled and waved. Connie gave me a huge hug and a kiss and just seemed to disappear. Thank you, Connie, our angel!
Two more photos. The first, of my parents at the main altar in Saint Peter's Basilica. The second, taken outside on that memorable day.
My heart is brimming with gratitude.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.