I’ve got another installment of tales to tell from our grand European adventure following our wedding. This particular story I originally typed out while we still sojourned abroad. Rather than trying to rewrite and recapture the moment, I’ve copied and pasted it below (with a few minor adjustments to reflect proper tense/clarity.) It’s a little on the long side, so allow me to apologize now! Carry on!
While in Rome for our grand European adventure,
on our first full day there, we set out at 6 a.m. (me still a smidge under the weather due to – we think — a mix of exhaustion, dehydration and insufficient nutrition), to attend a general audience with Pope Francis. He conducts audiences every Wednesday to crowds of thousands upon thousands that fill St. Peter’s Square. If you apply early, some newlywed couples are given the opportunity to sit up on the outer steps of the basilica, yards away from the pope’s seat, facing out toward the square. If granted permission, you receive two tickets to the audience (which you pick up the day before) to present to the guards along with a wedding certificate specific to the church where you married. It’s called the Sposi Novelli. We went through the motions, got our tickets and instructions on where to go, got up early, dressed in wedding-like attire (another necessity for this special access) and marched forth into the rainy, very early morning.
After exiting the metro, it became immediately clear we were heading in the right direction when we came across already impressive crowds of people walking toward the Vatican. There are three security points that open at about 7:30 a.m., to get into the square. We had been directed to the one on the far left of the square, as that’s closest to our set aside area. We had been told that if you get within the first row or two of the Sposi Novelli seating, sometimes the pope will give you an individual, special blessing. So we had further motives quickening our steps to the front of the line.
We got within view of our checkpoint and even at 6:30 there was a rather large crowd making us look like lazy slackers. But, there were no other readily apparent wedding-attired couples, so we didn’t panic. Until an ashen look spread across Dan’s face.
“I forgot the tickets,” he said, patting his pockets, and dropping his backpack to rifle within. “What?!” “I left them in my jeans pockets, I’m sure of it.”
We knew he had to go back. There was no way they would let us in without them. So I stationed myself near the outer barricade of the security line to stay visible (bear in mind my cell phone didn’t work internationally without wifi or huge fees, so we would be totally cut off from each other once he left), and he sprinted off in the direction we had just advanced.
I waited. And waited. And fretted. And berated myself for not double checking he had them. It shouldn’t have taken more than about 20 minutes of travel in each direction for him to make he trip. At 60 minutes I became even more concerned. Where could he have gone and what was taking so long? I told myself that when we reached 1 hour and 20 minutes, I would turn on my cell data and just eat the exorbitant fees to give him a call. The security line had since opened and the already agitated crowd started pushing around me to get into the square. Finally, a worn and wet Dan appeared down the street. He looked upset. Once within a few feet he called out, “I can’t find them. You must have them.”
I didn’t have them. He had taken them from the office where we collected them the night before, to his pockets, to our rental apartment. I never touched them, I would have sworn to it. But we checked nonetheless.
They were gone.
We both felt awful. To come this close to no avail. Within reach for nothing. We thought maybe we could return to that same office, explain the situation, and extend our trip in Rome by a few days to try again next week. Dan suggested we just try to talk our way into this audience with nothing but our parish wedding certificate as evidence. I felt sure that would never work, given the sheer number of people vying for a spot, but Dan insisted we give it a try.
At this time, another newlywed couple appeared beside us, and asked if we knew if this was the right line. Just hearing a word in English gave us a great bit of comfort right then. We were pretty sure this was our access point, but couldn’t be totally positive. So the husband of the other couple approached a guard and in broken Italian asked him. We were directed to the far side of the line. My heels kept getting stuck in the softened earth between cobblestones, so the other couple got ahead of us as I walked clean out of my shoe, it instead electing to stay lodged several steps behind me. As we caught up, we saw our fellow wedded couple speak to a priest outside a guarded gate, who sort of shook his head and walked off a few steps. As we walked forward, a guard within that gate made eye contact with me, and waved us forward. I took a deep breath, and presented our marriage certificate. Without a word, he waved us through. “We’re in!” Dan said, but there were a few more similar checkpoints ahead, so I continued to hold my breath.
The second one, the exact same reaction; the third, a maître’d type fellow in a long-tailed coat closely scrutinized my appearance (very damp from the rain, white dress still intact, muddy heels), and then Dan. He got a sly look on his face and in moderate English said to me, ” You, very nice. Him, I don’t like so much.” Dan and I smiled brightly and he waved us through. Up a ramp to the raised steps and there we were, directly outside the doors to St. Peter’s Basilica. Fourth row of the Sposi Novelli crowd. The second couple caught up and said the priest told them that side entrance was only for people who knew someone inside. I don’t know by what stroke of luck we managed it, but we did. It was about 8:30 or so, we had two hours to wait until Pope Francis arrived for his address. We settled in to wait.
Being so grateful to have done the impossible, the long wait sped by. Pretty soon the crowd below us in the square started cheering and we knew Pope Francis must have arrived to make a round before beginning his address. Bishops — all speaking different dialects — began introducing the various groups in attendance. The pope made it up the steps and to his seat (directly to our upper right-hand side so we were actually facing his back), and started speaking. He greeted everyone in Italian, a brief passage of scripture was read, and then he gave a short talk regarding that reading. Then all the bishops again translated for their specific languages, and the pope again descended to the crowds to greet more people.
Up until this point we still hadn’t been told who, if anyone, would be able to meet the pope directly. But once he walked down the steps, a guard came down and directed the fifty or so newlywed couples gathered there to walk around the barrier and spread out on the long steps stretched out before the platform. Another guard gave instructions as to what we could expect…in Italian. Which the majority of us could not understand. Through an international rendition of that schoolyard game “telephone” we translated the message among all the couples. (A very lovely Scottish couple, with thick accents, gave it to us.) Once the pope had finished greeting the general audience, he would greet us one line at a time, couple by couple.
I think we all got excited and scared then. This was really going to happen, and what exactly do you say to the pope? “Greetings from the United States! I love what you’re doing with your ensemble here. White is really your color.”
Dan and I were the third from last couple, so we had a bit of time to wait and ponder our (hopefully) profound moment. Then, our turn. I shook his hand, decided to not attempt any butchered Italian, and instead just said, “Thank you, Papa.” Very eloquent, don’t you think? Dan went a bit further, “We are from the United States. Denver, Colorado. Thank you for being so generous with your time.” We later discovered the pope doesn’t speak English much at all. But at this moment he had one phrase prepared quite simply: “Pray for me.”
Then a few very sweet and genuine smiles, a blessing for us, and he moved on. The school of guards and photographers surrounding him swept along, and another guard directed us down the steps. And in a fit of blurred moments, it was over. Luckily, one of those photographers that moved with Pope Francis has a business dedicated solely to capturing these moments and providing prints to the couples. We picked ours up a few days later.
It was a very surreal and wonderful moment. A once-in-a-lifetime meeting. And not a bad way to inaugurate our European adventure. We never could find those tickets, so from here on out, I’ll be the keeper of all essential documents!