Monday, January 20, 2014

difficult and beautiful to behold

The sun was colder as we waited in the square.
I stood with my one euro bottle of prosecco in one hand, my camera in the other, rapidly making notes on a small card that listed Mr. Weigel's US, Polish, and Italian mobile phone numbers. 
I looked around to see flocks of nuns wiping away tears, and journalists darting about.
The sun was shining, but a cloud prevented it from warming the fountains as it had the Trevi just a few moments before.
There was activity, an anxiousness, a desperate desire to soak in the last minutes of seeing Benedict XVI as Pope.

As the helicopter flew overhead, thousands of eyes followed it like hawks.
Like anxious parents watching their children leave for college, the crowds' eyes were glued to the large television screens, tracking the final moments of their pope with rapt devotion.
And then it flew away.
It was over.
And something new was about to begin.


The sunset burst into flames above Piazza Navona, splashing across the blue sky for just an instant.
The clouds matched the carefree peach plaster of the buildings surrounding the piazza.
The timing of the conclave was like the timing of the sunset.
Difficult to capture. Easy to miss entirely. 
But a beautiful sight to those who sought it out to behold.

"...but when I had to come to Rome, I always stayed in Via della Scrofa. From there I often visited the Church of St. Louis of France, and I went there to contemplate the painting of ‘The Calling of St. Matthew,’ by Caravaggio."
--Papa Francesco, commenting on our mutually beloved San Luigi dei Francesi.
I have never been more pleased when I discovered that Papa Francesco has an affinity for my favorite Church in Rome.
San Luigi dei Francesi is like a rainforest of marble, the beautiful square marble columns reach to dizzying heights above you.
It is a crazy church, there is nothing tame about it.
 It is wild, it's colorful marble columns and ceilings are an ecstasy of wild pigment.
But hidden within this majestic, nearly histrionic celebration of marble, there is hidden a real treasure. A much more subtle majesty. It is the beautiful chapel of St. Matthew, which features the twin Caravaggio pieces, depicting the tax collector's calling to follow the Lord on the right and then his subsequent martyrdom on the right.
It is a juxtaposition which is hard to forget.

At 8:00 on Tuesday morning, I ran to the surging line that was already threading its way into Opening Mass.
As I fell into the line that was slowly-but-surely running through the colonnades into the Basilica, the sense of history rippled through the crowd, disturbing the statues above us on the colonnade.
The reporters seemed enchanted, mystified by it, but strangely outside of it.
Observers on the edge of an event they could barely understand.

St. Peter's dome is mammoth---it's like a second sky.
Its magnificence seems large enough to encompass the whole globe, to draw it up into itself.
And the entire globe gathered to pray there, to be with one another, to participate in something more eternal than the sky.
There were only a few of us here.
A handful of us to stand in for the billions represented.
During Mass, I stood next to a man who spoked German. 
I didn't know his language, and he did not know mine. 
But then, somehow, magically, we raised our voices together and recited the Our Father. 
Our voices harmonized together in Latin, in a tongue, ever ancient, never new, that celebrates being part of a communion of humans, connected by the divine.

The solemn tones of Latin mixed with the words from all the different countries, all the different nations were gathered under one roof--the Dome of the Sky.

The evening was less solemn and more dazzling, the air charged with the electric anticipation as we awaited the first vote and the first smoke.
The pilgrims, sight-seers, onlookers, curiosity-seekers, wanderers all poured into the square, unsure of what they would find, but longing to be a part of it.
Like any piece of well-written theatre, the conclave abided by the rule of threes.
The first time smoke pillowed out of the chimney, all the onlookers were struck by the realization that without a doubt that we were here, witnessing this event.
It was a beautiful pinch, reminding us this was no dream.
We were there to witness a Caravaggio painting come to life.
For the next night, against of the dark chiaroscuro shadows of the dark Roman sky, breaking through the night with piercing and inescapable clarity, a cloud of white smoke poured out of the small, innocuous little chimney.

 Francis and Clare are examples of peace: with God, with oneself, with all men and women in this world. May this holy man and this holy woman inspire all people today to have the same strength of character and love of God and neighbor to continue on the path we must walk together.
--John Paul II, Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi, 1986

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