Whenever somebody travels to Rome, the first thing their friends usually tease them about is “oh are you going to see the pope?” My friends and family were exactly the same. So when I told my parents that I was going to Rome the weekend before Lent started, my dad gave me clear instructions to see the pope and say hello to him.

Okay Dad, will do.

Even though I have been raised a Catholic, I had no plans to meet the pope. It’s not like I’m going to walk into St. Peter’s Basilica and find him giving a speech, right? Wrong.

Laura and I decided to visit Rome and purchased tickets to go inside the Vatican Museum at the early hour of 9:30. My dad had informed me that during our time in Rome, the relics from St. Pio would be on display and there would be more crowds than usual. Great, just what I want to deal with. As we approached the Vatican, there were dozens of police officers armed with guns walking around. The two of us were wanded down and searched. It was as though they were expecting a riot to break out or something. I remember thinking that they didn’t need to be worried, because it would just be a ton of devoted Catholics looking at a dead saint. I would come to regret that.

Since we were already on the second day of our two-day vacation to Rome, Laura and I went through the Vatican Museum very quickly. I appreciated the art at a fast pace and tried to avoid the throngs of iPad-wielding tourists and those with their selfie sticks. After what felt like miles and miles of wandering, Laura and I finally made it to the Sistine Chapel. Sadly, that was the one place in the Vatican that you weren’t allowed to take pictures. I don’t fully comprehend why, it’s not like Michelangelo has a patent on ceiling art or anything. Regardless, I took some pretty solid forbidden pictures.

They said to not take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel. I present to you my picture of the Sistine Chapel - Vatican, Italy
They said to not take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel. I present to you my picture of the Sistine Chapel – Vatican, Italy
I spent weeks learning about this in Humanities last year. This year I was able to see it in person - Vatican, Italy
I spent weeks learning about this in Humanities last year. This year I was able to see it in person – Vatican, Italy

One of the best parts about the Sistine Chapel is that there is a shortcut to get you immediately to St. Peter’s Basilica. As you face the back of the chapel with the altar behind you, in the far right corner there is a little door. Most people wouldn’t give it any thought, but if you wait long enough, you will see a tour group go through the door. Sneak in to their group and follow them to avoid walking for an extra hour around Vatican City to get into the Basilica. It’s a surefire way to save yourself the extra work. Except on this day, the door was closed and not even the tour groups were walking through it. I contemplated just going through the door and hoping I wouldn’t get yelled at but I decided to be responsible and follow the rest of tourists.

By this point, we were both exhausted. We hadn’t eaten breakfast in order to make our 9:30 time and it was already past 11 in the morning. But I knew we couldn’t come to the Vatican without seeing the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica. So we walked all the way around to enter the square…

St. Peter's Square was packed full of devoted worshipers and oblivious tourists - Vatican, Italy
St. Peter’s Square was packed full of devoted worshipers and oblivious tourists – Vatican, Italy

And we found thousands of people in the square, attentively facing the Basilica. I heard clapping, talking, and the irritated voices of tourists. I automatically assumed that one of the cardinals or bishops was speaking about St. Pio and thought about how it would screw up our plans to enter the Basilica. As we got closer, Laura and I had to go through metal detectors to even go inside the square. Then I finally saw why.

The pope was standing on the steps of the Vatican, casually blessing the relics as though nothing was out of the ordinary.

Oh look, it's my friend Pope Francis! - Vatican, Italy
Oh look, it’s my friend Pope Francis! – Vatican, Italy

Even if you aren’t a Catholic, you have to admit that seeing the pope is a pretty neat thing. He is the spiritual leader of over a billion people, and that statistic alone is impressive enough. Of course my first thought was, “he looks so small from back here”. So we got in line to go through the metal detectors. I knew we would never get this opportunity again and that we needed to go for it. He had already been speaking for a while (it wasn’t a cardinal that I heard) and I didn’t want him to disappear on his pope-mobile before I got to see him up close. Unfortunately, the security guard had other plans. Laura and I were the next people to go through the metal detectors when the guard stopped them and walked off. I tried to plea with him and said that our parents were inside and we needed to get to them. This random girl behind me (who, I might add, had been practically shoving Laura earlier) said that her family was in there too. I just laughed and told her to come up with something more original and she sulked away. The guard still wouldn’t let us go through and instead decided that it would be a good idea to smoke a cigarette instead. Hope you know you’re getting lung cancer buddy.

I was able to see the pope up close on the jumbotrons. But take a look at all of the Italian ladies hurrying to mow me down to get close to him - Vatican, Italy
I was able to see the pope up close on the jumbotrons. But take a look at all of the Italian ladies hurrying to mow me down to get close to him – Vatican, Italy

From what I could understand, he said he would open it up later so we stood and waited. The old Italian ladies behind me clearly couldn’t understand him, despite the fact that they actually spoke the same language. They started crowding around us and were so close to the metal detector that they were setting it off. As soon as the guard let people go through again, they shoved and pushed us to try and get through first. They might have been small, but boy they were vicious. Sadly for them, I wasn’t putting up with that and told them to get back in line and walked through first.

Marisa – 1: Old Italian Ladies – 0

Once we were inside, it was although we were sheep being led to slaughter. You couldn’t move against the mass of people and as we inched closer to the pope, the tighter the Italian ladies pushed together. At one point I had a lady pulling my hair while simultaneously tring to push me forward, even though I was simply pushing another old Italian lady. It was like a vicious food chain that had no clear winner. Except the pope, riding happily on his pope-mobile. At one point, there was a bit of clearing in the crowd and a mass exodus of women ran forward. One woman was running so quickly and ran into my shoulder, nearly knocking me down. After her was another, and then another and an endless amount of them. I never would have expected them to be so violent and adamant to get closer to the pope.

Pope Francis is wonderfully close with the followers of the Church, which must give his security detail a heart attack - Vatican, Italy
Pope Francis is wonderfully close with the followers of the Church, which must give his security detail a heart attack – Vatican, Italy
Off he goes in the Pope-mobile! - Vatican, Italy
Off he goes in the Pope-mobile! – Vatican, Italy

Even though Laura and I still remained at least 50 yards from the pope, we had one of the better vantage points than most. I took a few good pictures and was even present when Pope Francis blessed the crowd. Since there were so many people, we couldn’t even turn around to leave. We were essentially forced along with the crowd into the Basilica, which we quickly viewed and left.

The inside of St. Peter's Basilica is absolutely stunning - Vatican, Italy
The inside of St. Peter’s Basilica is absolutely stunning – Vatican, Italy
All of those people were gathered to see and pray over the relics of St. Pio - Vatican, Italy
All of those people were gathered to see and pray over the relics of St. Pio – Vatican, Italy

But what did I find the funniest thing of all?

Despite their pushing and shoving, it didn’t do the old Italian ladies any good, because they were too short to even see the pope over the crowd. Pope Francis’s blessing clearly worked though, because Laura and I were able to survive the stampede of the Italian ladies.

I was so fortunate and honored to be able to see the pope give a speech. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience - Vatican, Italy
I was so fortunate and honored to be able to see the pope give a speech. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience – Vatican, Italy

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