March 17: Leisure and Lessons in Rome

By Angela Reece

March 17—

“So what are you wearing for the Pope?” Religio staffer Dana Forde said.

At the Pontifical North American College adjacent to Vatican City. David Palacio / Religio.

At the Pontifical North American College adjacent to Vatican City. David Palacio / Religio.

I laughed as it is not a question that I get everyday, but on Sunday morning, we thought we should wear something special as we were preparing to see Pope Francis for the second time in as many days.  Some of the male Religio staffers opted for sport jackets while a few of the ladies wore tailored pants and bright colors.  Our schedule included a stop at St. Peter’s Square to see the new pope recite the recites the Angelus, a devotional prayer said in honor of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

We gathered at our hotel for breakfast and met with Manya Brachear, the religion writer for the Chicago Tribune who is in Rome for her second conclave.  She covered the election of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and now was back for Pope Francis.  Brachear, who was in Professor Goldman’s covering religion class in 2002, said, “When Pope Francis walked out, the vibe in the square was so different from when Pope Benedict walked in.  The energy was different; people were excited and seemed full of hope.”

After breakfast, Brachear joined us at Sunday mass at the Pontifical North American College, which was celebrated by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.  The seminary was founded in 1952.  Here, we met Deacon John Paul Mitchell, a 2007 graduate for the J-School who is now studying for the priesthood.  Mitchell explained that it was Pope Pius IX who had encouraged building an American seminary to develop unity and universality within the church and its traditions in the United States.  Currently, there are 250 men studying at the college.

Thousands of Catholics from around the world gathered in St. Peter's Square for Pope Francis' first Angelus. David Palacio / Religio.

Thousands of Catholics from around the world gathered in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ first Angelus. David Palacio / Religio.

During mass, the members of the procession wore purple robes and poppy-red zucchettos, and Cardinal George led readings from the scripture and the liturgy of the Eucharist.  He described that each individual cardinal who votes in the conclave must first reflect upon himself to “free himself of personal thought, opinion, and reflection.”

He said, “The conclave is an exercise in freedom.  Those who will be most free can speak for the church.”

We raced from the seminary to St. Peter’s Square where we joined over 150,000 people for the Angelus prayer.  Flags from nations around the world rustled in the wind, and people in the crowd chanted the pope’s name in Italian:

“Fran-ces-co, Fran-ces-co, Fran-ces-co.”

Pope Francis addressed the crowd in prayer and asked the faithful to pray for him:

“Thank you for your welcome and for your prayers.”

“Pray for me,” he said.

He recounted a story of an elderly woman he’d met in Buenos Aires two decades ago:  “She told me:  ‘If the Lord hadn’t forgiven all, then the world wouldn’t be here.”

“And I wanted ask her, ‘Ma’am, you didn’t happen to study at the Gregorian?’  Because that is the wisdom regarding the mercy of God.”

His comment inspired applause from the crowd.

“Let us not forget this word:  God never tires of forgiving us,” he said.

Later on this Sunday afternoon, we went to an ancient Christian burial ground, the Catacomb di San Callisto, which has 18 miles of underground tunnels in which 500,000 Christians were buried.  The dark labyrinth reminded Katherine Theofanous of a Hollywood film.  She said, “This reminds me of Indiana Jones.”

Harman Boparai said, “I saw some movement.  I am not kidding,” however, I’ve yet to figure out if he was just teasing me.  As we walked through the dark tunnels and their excavated graves, we observed the frescoes with Christian themes on the walls and made our way back to the warmer air outside.

After a shuttle ride back to the hotel on roads surrounded by ancient ruins, we retired for a short rest before our dinner at an amazing Austrian restaurant called the Cantina Tirolese –  a place Cardinal Ratzinger frequented before he became the Pope.  The Austrian décor prompted conversation of favorite childhood movies, including the “Sound of Music.” To get “home” to our hotel, we only had to walk a few blocks and crossed St. Peter’s Square – which is starting to feel like our backyard. It is a place where history will continue to unfold over the next few days.