The combination of the recent Easter holiday and the canonization of Pope John Paul II has got me thinking about the Spring of 2004. Ten years ago I was living in Florence, Italy attending a study abroad program. There were about sixteen other students from my college also in this program. Our college’s president, who happened to be a Catholic priest, decided to spend Easter in Italy with us instead of back in Massachusetts. Part of his plan was to take us all to Rome to celebrate Easter Mass with the Pope.
My memory is a bit spotty on the details- I knew I should have written everything down back then- but I’ll tell you what I remember. We took the train from Florence to Rome and spent the night just outside of the city at an establishment run by nuns. I don’t think it was a convent exactly, but the furnishings were sparse and simple as you would imagine.
The next morning, quite literally dressed in our Sunday Best, we headed to the Vatican for Mass. We sat with the nuns who housed us in a pretty amazing spot by the main aisle. When the Pope made his rounds in the Pope-mobile, he was only a few feet away from us.
I’m not one to get hyped up about religious services, but being in the presence of a Pope was pretty exciting. Participating in a Mass lead by a Pope isn’t something that many people experience, and even though I’m not super religious I can definitely appreciate the value of Easter 2004.
I like JP II. At the time, he was the only Pope to preside over Catholicism since I had been alive. I went to his High School. We’re both Polish. When I was in elementary school, classmate’s grandparents visited the Vatican and brought souvenirs back for all of us kids. We each received a gold pendant with either Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul II. I still have my JP II pendant (thanks grandma!). It was truly amazing to be among the thousands of people celebrating this Easter Mass with Pope John Paul II, even if we did have to sit through a portion of the service being said in about 100 languages (no, I’m actually serious. I almost forgot about that part…almost).
As it turns out, this would be JP II’s last Easter Mass. And you knew it was coming. He didn’t speak as much as he used to, but when it did, it was at times inaudible. He was frail and pale. How lucky was I that I decided to study in Italy during the Spring and that our president decided his Easter would be best spent with us.
I don’t have much memory of the rest of that weekend. In truth, my trips to Rome blend together at this point. I know we went to a couple of meals in the city, including a lunch after Mass. I remember our president speaking a lot of Spanish to the servers…a lot (because Spanish and Italian are obviously the same language). At one point the servers actually commented about that. I just have to chuckle at that memory. And I believe we also visited the crypts just outside of the city.
My memories may be fading, but I will always remember that I spent the Easter of 2004 at the Vatican. How many other people can say that?