Friday, April 29, 2011

Rainy Day In Rome

I have been evangelizing myself today. With the beatification of Pope John Paul II approaching, I thought I would re-read some of my writings about my trips to Rome during his pontificate. I have been humbled and encouraged by the words of my 10-years younger self. Can I share a few of those words with you here in this little place?


This article appeared in LayWitness magazine some years ago. It is an account of one day of our pilgrimage to Rome in our first year of marriage (about 10 years ago). 



The Day it Rained in Rome

It was late October in Rome and my husband Jim and I stood in a crowd of people, mostly young families under stormy skies waiting to be let into St. Peter’s Square. Then, the rain began to fall. We were typical Californians that morning, having left the house without jackets or an umbrella, in spite of the cloudy skies. It never even occurred to us that it might rain. We thought only of getting to St. Peter’s early so as to have good seats for the Beatification of Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and his wife Maria Corsini. They were going to be the first married couple to be beatified together. The young Italian families around us had probably been at the vigil the night before when the Holy Father showed his love and support of families and emphasized the importance of the marital union itself to the health of the family. Now we all stood in the rain waiting to see him beatify a couple whose love of God and practice of heroic virtue typified their marriage.
I apologize for the poor photography skills...you know what they say,  you go to Rome with the camera you have....This is the banner that hung over the door to St. Peter's Basilica. It showed Luigi and Maria holding hands.

Eventually the Italian guards let us enter St. Peter’s Square and we all rushed to the front section hoping for a seat that would afford a good view of the Holy Father. Jim and I settled at the back end of the section, against a wooden barrier. We sat in our wet seats with newspapers draped across our knees and sweaters over our heads. A nearby Italian family smiled at us and seemed to be searching their things for an extra umbrella, but none was found. A small nun stood nearby and tilted her umbrella in our direction, hoping to shield us from the rain. We wondered how we were going to make it through the morning and looked anxiously at the sky hoping it would clear soon. We began to look through the booklet given to us as we entered and wondered about this couple. Who were they? What special things had they done to deserve this honor? Since, everything was written in Italian, which neither of us could read, the answers eluded us.

As the morning wore on we began to notice that the covered area on the steps in front of the Basilica on which the altar stood was being cleared of various items. As others noticed the same thing, a crowd of people began to gather near the barriers blocking the path that led to doors of the Basilica. We stood and moved in that direction wondering if they were going to move the celebration to the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica, where there was only a fraction of the space already set aside for people in the square. Finally, an Italian woman turned to us and tried to explain in her broken English what was going on. She said that due to the rain, the beatification Mass was being moved to the inside of the Basilica and that some of the people already in the Square might be let into the Basilica. We followed her to the gathering crowd as the rain increased.

Some time passed and the crowd at the barrier continued to grow. In true Italian fashion, we were pressed together like the proverbial can of sardines. The guards in front began to let people with “bambini” come through the barrier to get out of the pressing crowd. They motioned them to one of the pillars that border St. Peter’s Square. This would shelter them from the rain. The Italian woman who originally helped us had turned our way again and, pointing to my bulging belly, said “Bambino?”… wondering if I was pregnant. I smiled and said yes and she then began insisting that we should move to the front. She and her friends began to tell people in Italian that I was pregnant and, as the message was passed to the front, they pushed us forward. When we got to the policemen they looked at us suspiciously, but the crowd behind told them in Italian that I indeed had a bambino…inside. They willingly let me through, however, Jim was made to wait in the downpour. I huddled with the small group of mothers, children, and elderly as the heavens opened up. Eventually, one of the policemen felt pity for Jim and let him through as well.

Several minutes had passed when the moment we had been waiting for finally came. A man came to the microphone and announced something in Italian. Whatever was said the people began moving quickly toward the Basilica while grabbing chairs. Since we were right in front of the crowd we headed up the steps immediately. Jim grabbed two chairs and I rushed into the Basilica to find a spot for us. We were blessed to find a spot on the center aisle about twenty rows back from the front of our section.

This is scanned right out of the old photo album (pre-digital camera days). I think the photo was self timed and taken inside the basilica while we waited. The yellow ticket is in Italian and says something in Italian which ends with "for the beatification of Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi. " Sorry, my Italian is not good. 
It wasn’t long before the basilica filled up and the Mass began. The procession came slowly and ceremoniously down the center aisle and before it reached the altar a murmur which began in the back of the basilica changed to cheering as the Holy Father turned the corner to process down the center aisle. He stood on his rolling cart, with his bishop’s crosier and miter, blessing us as he passed. It was thrilling to be so close to him and to be present at this historical event. Though we understood very little of what was said at the time since it was all in Italian, we knew that this couple was being held up as an example to all married couples of heroic virtue in the everyday life of the family. We tried to decipher the Italian to learn something of who they were and how they lived their lives. We discovered that two of their four children, now in their 90’s, were priests concelebrating with the Holy Father at this Mass. We also learned that when Maria was pregnant with their fourth child the doctors told her that she should abort the baby or she would very likely die trying to bring the child to full term. She miraculously lived and so did her daughter who was also present at the beatification. Both Luigi and Maria were involved in political and educational endeavors outside their home, but the part of their lives that was held up to the world that day was not their worldly accomplishments. It was the day to day effort with which they strove for holiness, always making the living of the Faith a normal part of their family’s life.
I believe the frail looking priest on the left of the picture is one of their sons. 

As we sat in the basilica, we recalled that we were in Rome at this time only because we had just been married. We also realized that we had a seat in the Basilica mainly because God had blessed us with a new life growing in my womb. These two thoughts converged in our minds, and we suddenly felt the weight and inherent holiness of our vocation. Both of us had seriously considered religious vocations before we decided that God had called us to marriage. As holy and precious as we knew religious life to be, here in front of us was proof positive that marriage and family life was the means by which we both could attain heaven...together.

It has always been easy for Jim and I to talk about how Catholic families should live their lives and in what ways we would imitate the families that we have known, making our grandiose plans for raising saints. As I feel my first future saint moving in my womb I wonder how I will help him or her to grow in holiness, to love God, to be a saint. Then it hits me, as it has so many times before. There was the answer in front of me in St. Peter’s Basilica that day. Luigi and Maria are not just a lucky couple, or even an especially talented and gifted couple. They were everyday people with everyday troubles who learned, by daily prayer, daily practice of virtue, and frequent reception of the Sacraments, that God wanted them to be holy in everything. If my children are to be saints, then I must be a saint myself. Jim and I must seek holiness with the same enthusiasm and ambition that Luigi and Maria sought it. Every married couple is called to be Luigi and Maria--in other words, like Christ--in a unique way. It is not pride that leads us to seek sainthood, but true humility in the face of the knowledge of our identity as children of God.
Our view of him. We saw Pope John Paul II so many times that trip, including the time we stood in front of him and took his hand and received his blessing. But that is a story for another day. 

There were times when the experience of this historical event on October 21st felt much like a rock concert or sporting event. However, the small friendly ways in which people cared for us, the little crosses that accompanied our journey that day, and the example of the lives of a simple married couple all worked together to teach Jim and I a lesson about how God calls us to live our lives. Holiness is not to be put off until tomorrow. We must seek it in every moment. And if ever we face a real challenge in life, like Luigi and Maria faced with their fourth child, we will then have the strength to face it in imitation of Christ, embracing His cross. May we all someday meet Luigi and Maria and the many other married couples who are saints in heaven! Blessed Luigi and Maria, pray for us.


2 comments:

  1. You have been blessed with so many wonderful experiences while in Europe!!! Thank you for sharing these and how they have touched and formed your lives together.

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  2. I read this back when it was first published in LayWitness, and I'm moved by it again today just as much. Thanks for sharing!

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