How is it I have never been to Rome? by Melinda Miller

How is it I have been to Europe at least 15 times and never to Rome?

Our first afternoon in Rome we walked from our hotel four blocks to the Vatican and St. Peter`s Basilica. Entering the piazza, I was overcome with sensation, history, the enormity of belief, and the illusion of time. Twenty thousand chairs were set up, rock star video screens and a huge stage under a canopy, ready for the Pope`s Wednesday morning audience. We bypassed the piazza, quickly walked through security and stepped into the Basilica. I have seen a number of cathedrals and large churches in Europe, including Notre Dame, Chartres, the Duomo in Firenze and Milano, Winchester Cathedral, among others, but there really is just one St. Peter`s. It is a palpable energy walking past the burial place of John Paul II, candles, flowers, pilgrims, and a guard standing in silence. Gazing at The Pieta that has spent the last 35 some years behind glass after a vicious attack, you see grace, movement, and love interpreted in stone. Though it is smaller than many of the other statues, it is like standing in front of the Mona Lisa. It`s smallness of size is not diminishing its power to portray spirit.

Upon walking out onto the front steps, we saw the full moon rising over the obelisk in the Piazza. Flocks of black birds undulated like waves in the sky, seeming surreal and illusive, as if they might suddenly disappear and never have even existed.

We had asked an official looking man inside how to get tickets to the Pope`s audience and were told to talk to a member of the Guard. Walking down the steps there were two young men in black suit and tie, looking for the entire world like Mormon missionaries. Doug asked them about the tickets. One of them said to wait, as he walked toward a gate with the Swiss Guard, stopping some 20 feet before, waited for permission to continue, and whispered our request. He waved me forward and I dashed up to the cutest tall, slim and gorgeous young man dressed in a costume of a centuries old design. I said in my poor italiano what I wanted and he told me I would have to pay, at which time he laughed and smiled like a million euro.

So, we had our tickets to see the Pope.

Wednesday morning dawned cloudy and cool and as we re-entered the Piazza of San Pietro, it appeared we were the last to arrive, 45 minutes earlier than the scheduled hour of 10.30 AM. Doug wanted to take the seats available in the back row, but he didn`t grow up going to mass, so he could not know that you can always find a place farther up. We settled into 3 seats, just behind 4 wild and crazy Brazilians, in front of a few Mexicans, and otherwise surrounded by Brits, Germans, Americans, Chileans and Eastern Europeans. To my surprise, many of the people were young adults. It started to drizzle and Nancy said not to worry as she was pretty sure this guy had some pull. Soon the infamous POPEMOBILE appeared, and the rains stopped. It seems Benedict has acquired a new Mercedes, careening up and down the wide set aisles, with close ups on the huge video screens. Wild cheers. Mic Jaeger would be jealous.

It must be requirements to being pope that you have to look great in white and speak lots of languages.

That alone, would have put Benedict on the short list. It is said that he only wanted to move home to Germany and retire after the death of his friend John Paul, but he got elected. Ups. I wonder if it is a job that anyone has ever turned down. Being in the Vatican, if you believe in reincarnation, which you don`t by the way if you are Catholic, you might find yourself thinking, hey, why not do a life time here and have this amazing experience from the inside. It was intriguing in The Di Vinci Code. It was the ultimate growing up in Catholic school. It`s compelling anywhere in The Vatican. Hum, nothing wrong with a simple little black dress. And I love red accessories. The Audience was a special moment but repeated every Wednesday morning, and one Doug said was the Carnegie Hall of church events. Leaving the Piazza with the video screens turned off, 20,000 people milling out, and all high on what? I am not sure. A since of oneness that we had all come together at this moment in time, from all over the world, all really wanting the same things. Beyond any religion or nationality, but a knowing that we were all the same. Blessed. The sun was shining and it was a mile`s walk to the Vatican Museums.

One of the great benefits to traveling in November is missing the crowds. We waited only minutes in line to buy our tickets and enter the enormous space that make up the museums. There are really many museums here, Ancient Egyptian, Early Roman, maps, frescos, ceilings, statuary, gardens, and the Oh My God building itself. There is so much beauty everywhere that sometimes I would accidently look down and see that I was walking on a marvelous floor of multi-colored granite and marble or ancient tiny tile. I have heard through my life that the church was so rich it should just sell off its treasures and feed the poor. And I might have thought that on occasions travelling in really poor areas of the world. Now having been here I will never think that again. Art is itself food for the mind, soul and heart. No, it does not feed those who do not visit, but those who do are changed, and if you are changed by beauty, you will always seek more beauty. And there is nothing wrong with that. Somewhere I read that 80 % of the art in the world is in Italy. This may or not be true, but it does seem to be everywhere you look. That was day 2 in Roma…..more to follow.

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