It was Day One of our pilgrimage. After seeing some of the major sites of Rome, we went out for dinner as a group. But on the way back to our hotel, things changed. Around 11:00 PM while going around the streets blocked off for the 1 million plus people expected to cram the streets for the Beatification of Blessed John Paul the Great, we encountered a group of Polish pilgrims. They were singing hymns and carrying banners and, as early as it was, they would still be lining up miles away from St. Peter’s Square. We had been planning to get a few hours of sleep and then leave our hotel around 4:00 AM to get in line. Suddenly, we realized that we needed to move up our schedule by several hours in order to have any hope of actually being in St. Peter’s Square for the event. So, we hastily gathered our group and headed out by 1:45 AM, most of us having not slept.
When we lined up in Via della Conciliaziona, we couldn’t even see the Vatican. For the next six hours, we intermittently walked at a snail’s pace while being squeezed, pushed, and generally crowded to point where some of our group left to watch the Beatification from the comfort of a hotel room or cafe. However, we were also invigorated by the joy and energy of so many people who refused to consider being anywhere else. So we waited, and we shuffled along the cobblestone street, slowly inching our way ever closer to the Piazza.
By the time the sun rose on Rome, we were tired, thirsty, hungry, and bruised. Many of us who stayed considered leaving at one time or another. However, we were again buoyed by the resolve of so many of the Polish pilgrims. They sang hymns as our feet ached – they gave us strength. If they could joyfully accept their suffering, so could we.
As we neared the Piazza, the clock was ticking. Did we have any realistic chance of getting in?! We truly didn’t know, and the situation was growing more intense. At every opportunity to advance, the crowd pushed harder. We often moved several meters at a time under the momentum of the crowd without our feet touching the ground. Eventually, the 13 of us who remained became separated, husbands from wives and friends from friends. Individually, many of us prayed for the intercession of Blessed John Paul the Great to keep us safe.