The Journey Back to Rome & Meeting the Saints
The day started at 5:00am. Saint Peter's square was dimly lit and graced with the cold air of autumn. I counted cobblestones till we reached our place of waiting. Our tour guide Massimo was confident that this was going to be the gate that would be opened first by 8:00am. 45 pilgrims from Bus number 5 walked eagerly up the railing that divided the rest of the square from the much desired seat quadrants near the Basilica's steps.
There was a silent anticipation. "Anybody want coffee?" Massimo calls out. He comes back with a liter of espresso poured into a plastic bottle and passed around small paper cups. A cheer cuts through the silence and we merrily sipped what we can from the deliciously hot coffee that warmed our moments of waiting.
I stood there and stared at the wide area of St. Peter's. Seven portraits of Saints hung on the entrance of the basilica. To the far left was our Saint Pedro Calungsod. The brave 17 year old catechist who gave his life for his beloved Padre Diego.
"You be careful with your bags and make sure you defend your place eh! The line! The line! Dees peepol they will invade your line so make sure you defend!" Massimo calls out. We huddled closer to each other and talked silently about our strategies to conquer the cobblestoned square and make our way to the quadrant. I was amused and at the same time feeling lucky that I belonged to a group who really wanted to make sure we got what we came here for.
After 2 hours of waiting the guards came. Along with them another group from Syracuse who wanted to "invade" our line but there we were. Standing strong and held onto the railing with all our might. I'd laugh at it now but during that dark and cold morning, I suppose anyone would want to cling to the treasured place of being the first to enter the square by 9:00. The gates opened as Massimo expected and we ran to the second gate which was all the way to the opposite end. I was almost scared for the stampede but by some miracle I survived. This time we were neck and neck with all the rest. Squeezed like sardines with people from all over the world. I thought to myself that I could sleep upright and still not fall.
The wait finally ended. The sky slowly lightened and the Basilica's dome stood gleaming against the light blue. They opened the second gate into the quadrant 15 minutes before 9:00am. The crowd pushed like an angry wave. Arms of Vatican guards were held crossed before us like human gates. Only one person at a time could slip past through. I thought it would never end. I thought I would pass out. But after what seemed like eternity I finally saw quadrant and slipped through the arms of the Vatican guards after waving my orange ticket.
I wanted to cry. I've walked this square 7 years ago but the feeling wasn't the same as this. It felt like crossing over the bridge to enter the gates of heaven or at least that's how I experienced it. I suppose knowing that holy people who walked this same earth will be proclaimed saints made such a big difference. The holiness was overwhelming. And the ceremonies haven't even started yet.
True enough, we found seats the seemed like 20 paces away from the steps. It was near enough to see the altar. It was near enough to see the Pope. The rosary started at promptly 9:00am. You can hear the murmuring of people and the excited movements could not be contained. People were still rushing in.
Then everything quieted down. The bells rang. And there was the Pope. His back bent but faint smile on his face. Walked to the altar and began his eucharist. The mass was said in Latin and it was the first time I've experienced and entirely Latin celebration. While my calculating mind thought I'd lose my focus I was calmly reminded that the Christian tradition was propagated through this ancient tongue. So while I could not really understand I kept to my prayers and responded as such.
The canonization was not long. But the regal air to the words that were spoken bequeathed the anointing of sainthood like the Holy Spirit's breath. I stood there and felt all the stories of these holy people come alive.
It wasn't so much the remembering of their deeds. It was how God gave them wings and here we were honoring the legacy of the life they lived. Now they sit with the choirs and kneel with the witnesses who've walked before them. And I, sat in the quadrant with one thing in my mind.
God is alive.
He remains alive through the people who live their through Him and for Him. He remains alive in our love. These saints who have been recognized that day are just examples of how lives can change and be transformed to God's love expressed. But there's another thing I realized that day, we do not have to wait for recognition to live a life that manifests the love of God.
The ceremony ended past 11:00am. The sun shone brightly on the dome. The Pope rode his pope-mobile and waved to the crowd. I waved back and felt a rush of faith within me. Centuries have passed and still, there are many who believe in the same faith I have. Many who believe in the Christ. The Risen One. The Saviour who has come to set the captives free.
I walked the cobblestoned streets of St. Peter's Square filled and re-affirmed again that this faith journey is not in vain. There is a truth that exists and is worth holding on to. And though I may not be like one of those who will perfectly be recognised as one, I'll remain a hopeful pilgrim relying on the love of God to carry me till the day I enter the pearly gates.