Before we all got separated, our pilgrimage guide Mountain Butorac (The Catholic Traveler) had encouraged us to keep to the right (left in the photo). Initially, this seemed like a huge mistake. Not only did we get split up, but the crowd swept us into a portico outside the colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s Square. We seemed to be totally off course as those who remained in Via della Conciliaziona appeared to have the shortest route.
Much to our surprise, this maneuver instead turned out to be a huge break. While most of the crowd remained in the narrowest part of the street, we were able to slip around the bottleneck as we squirted out the other end of the portico. Suddenly, we found ourselves in space and were able to regroup together. Better still, the solitary entrance through the colonnade was to our right. We had emerged in the best possible position! However, the crowd soon tightened again, and we still had make our way around approximately one-quarter of the colonnade to the security checkpoint.
The crowd continued to move in pulses; over and over, we were alternately swept along forward and then squeezed to a halt. This may have been the most frustrating part our odyssey. We were so close, but the hour was getting late. Through the rows of massive marble columns, we could see how full the Piazza was. We knew the waves of movement would soon end.
However, after a few more surges, we could actually see the checkpoint! It was agonizingly close as we stood stationary for what seemed to be an eternity. Would there be another wave? Suddenly, the crowd moved again! We were being drawn forward toward the gate, but would this final wave be big enough to carry us in? The guards threw up their arms and yelled for the crowd to halt.
Like a runner rounding third base, determined to score the winning run and ignoring the coach’s stop sign, we continued to surge forward. All at once, we found ourselves being shuttled into single-file lines to pass through metal detectors, looking around at one another trying to comprehend what had just happened. WE DID IT! WE WERE IN!
We learned later that we were part of the last group to get in. In the Catholic News Service article Small miracles happen at beatification celebrations, pilgrims say, one pilgrim noted that he “got up at 3:00 AM and managed to get a spot halfway up Via della Conciliazione.” Remember, we had originally planned to leave our hotel at 4:00 AM. Had we not changed our plans in the middle of the night, we wouldn’t have even gotten close. Small miracles, indeed!
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