Today I went to the Vatican for the Easter Mass. The mass is held in St. Peter’s Square, not in the actual basilica itself, which means that not only can up to 80,000 people squeeze into the square to watch the mass from there, countless others can watch from beyond the colonnade. My decision to attend the mass was very last minute so I was unfortunately one of the many people standing outside the colonnade but there were big screens and speakers set up so that we could see and here the Pope anyway.
It was completely packed, for a couple of reasons. First of all, this was the new Pope, Pope Francis’ first Easter mass. Second of all Pope Francis (Papa Francesco) has been a very popular pope thus far. And finally, and most importantly, Rome, the Vatican, is the Catholic Capital of the world. Of course people will flock there.
I mentioned in my first about Rome how there were so many nuns and priests and that impression has only be furthered the longer I’ve been here. The neighborhood I live in is full of papal buildings and many orders of nuns and monks. When I take the bus home from school there are always a few nuns that hope on, speaking different languages, wearing slightly different habits, but all there to be in Rome, near the Vatican.
It’s a very interesting contrast from New York and DC, neither of which have extremely strong religious presences, although of course there are many religious people there. It isn’t as likely though to walk down the street and pass two priests and several monks in robes down to their ankles.
It’s so interesting to see such a strong religious community. The fact that Italy has an almost 90% Catholic majority makes that presence even stronger. I loved being able to experience that fervor when I went to the mass today, and to be able to feel everyone’s excitement at seeing this new Pope. Hearing the colonnade echo with music and prayers reminded me that as much as St. Peter’s, and the Vatican as a whole, are major tourist destinations, filled with beautiful art and rich history, they still genuinely serve a religious purpose to millions of people around the world, and have for centuries. Seeing the new Pope there today, I felt like I was experiencing that history myself.