Since the beginning of the semester, I had known that I would be spending the first half of my spring break alone. Most of my friends and roommates were planning on traveling as soon as classes ended on Thursday, while I would be staying in Rome. Not because I didn't want to travel with them, but because I knew Rome had something far more exciting to offer than the beaches and sights my vacation would bring me to later in the week: Easter in the Vatican City. It's not exactly likely that I will be back in Rome any time soon, especially not in the spring, so getting to see the Pope in St. Peter's Square during Holy Week could very well be a once in a lifetime experience. If you are planning on going the Vatican for Easter, take this article as an example of what you might find there. If you don't know that you'll make it to Rome for the spring, feel free to live vicariously through me.
To get into the center of St. Peter's Square on Easter, you need to have a ticket, which I did not have. This was both because I had heard the process of getting one was tedious and needed to be started at least two months in advance, and because I hadn't known you needed tickets until those two months were almost up. Lucky for me, you don't actually need a ticket to get into the square, only to get past the final line of security closest to the basilica. Tickets are free, though, so if you want to get closer to the altar, don't hesitate if you have the time and patience to try to get one.
Since I didn't know exactly what ticketing or crowds would be like without a ticket, I got to St. Peter's about an hour before mass started. The entire street leading to the basilica was cleared of street traffic and filled with security checkpoints. The crowd in the square was standing, separated by barricades. The square wasn't all that crowded yet, so I ended up just one row of people away from the barricade separating ticket holders and non-ticket holders. Over the course of the next hour, though, the space behind me filled with people. I watched the crowds grow as cameras hovered over the crowd on cranes, projecting our images onto the screens that circled St. Peter's Square. Flags waved through the crowd, marking the countries they had come from throughout the world. The man in front of me asked the women next to them where they were from in easy English. "Argentina," they said. He smiled. "Phillipines."
So much about the mass was so foreign to me, yet felt completely familiar. The hour-long ceremony was accompanied by not only by an organ and choir, but by an entire orchestra. I read along in the book as the mass was carried out in an array of different languages I could only understand through previous knowledge of what the readings at Easter mass usually are. The readings changed from Latin to Greek to Arabic to Chinese with every pause in the mass. When it came time to say peace to my neighbors, I was met with a response in at least seven different languages. The structure of the ceremony was exactly the same as any other I had been to, except now I really didn't know what to say when the Pope said, "Dominus vobiscum."
Everything seemed to be going pretty orderly until it came time for communion. There was no real way to create a line in the packed crowd, so priests just stood several steps apart in front of the barricade and waited for people to make it to them through the throng. It wasn't very long before people started shoving their way to the front, throwing their hands up to let the priests know they hadn't received communion yet as they rushed forward. Eventually, though, they started to figure it out. Those who had already made their way to the priest parted until a clear line of concrete ran in front of him, creating space enough for a proper line to form. I was lucky enough to already be at the front of the crowd when the priest first came around, but it did take a good amount of time for him to get everyone. It also gave all those people at the back of the crowd a chance to be in front, so I lost my spot close to the barricade. I was in the third row of people afterward, though, so still not too bad.
The priest left, mass concluded, and a suited man shut the open ticket barricade closed in front of us, creating an alley between us and the ticket holders. The people around me started talking rapidly and excitedly in a hundred different languages. The Pope step down from the altar until he was hidden by the crowd, but on screen I watched him step into the car beside the steps. It was brilliantly white in the sun.
Shouts and cries were the only way of telling where he was in the crowd. I opened the camera on my phone and held it above my head. We waited as the volume began to crescendo to our left. The women beside me cried out, "Papa! Papa!" as he appeared atop the car, waving to the crowd. Layers of guards walked ahead of him and led him past. The people around me still chattered and bounced with excitement as they waited for him to reappear.
"Mira, mira!" said the woman beside me. She pointed at the papal window. The pope stood above the crowd beside two men clothed in white. He leaned toward the microphone in front of him. "Sorelle e fratelli, Buona Pasqua," he said. The crowd cried out, "Buona Pasqua," with utter joy in their voices. I spent the next ten minutes trying to decipher his Italian using a mixture of the elementary Italian I've been learning and Spanish. I caught bits and pieces of it before he disappeared behind the red curtain hanging behind him. The barricades were open and the basilica's bells began to ring. The drums and horns joined it softly. I followed the crowd out onto the empty Via della Conciliazione, forming an entire street of people giddy from being surrounded by such resounding joy. I walked as the church bells faded behind me until all I could hear was the sound of drums, creating an echoing heartbeat that seemed to emanate from the basilica itself.