Today we leave our hotel earlier than usual. We are making our way to the Holy Door at St Peter’s Basilica. We walk to Termini station to catch the bus to the Vatican. We have two choices, the 40 or the 64. Both have the distinction of being called the pick pocket buses.
As we board, there is a mad rush to get in. Most of our pilgrims get in, some however are the last to board and so have to literally shove themselves onto the bus! With all the bodies crammed inside, we won’t be cold that’s for sure.
When we arrive, we make our way to the starting point of the Mercy walk which will lead us to the Holy Doors. Once there, our pilgrims start to put on their lavalava which was kindly made for us by Ake.
Ioane then takes up the cross to lead us in the walk. As we proceed down the via del Conciliazione praying the Rosary, we notice people stopping as we pass, some making the sign of the Cross. As we walk we are mindful of the many people who cannot be physically with us, but whom we carry in our thoughts and in our hearts. As we inch closer to the basilica, we become very emotional. This is a once in a life-time event for most if not all of us.
Our final part of the walk before entering the Holy Door is a recounting of the final moments of Jesus’ life on earth – our Catholic tradition calls this the “Stations of the Cross”. There is a subdued sense of joy in what we are doing right now. Although the stations are a reminder of the intense suffering Jesus shouldered on account of us, we feel a sense of joy that we now walk with Him and share his suffering, albeit in a symbolic way.
As we approach the Holy Door we are silent. Being led by the cross we pass through the doors and enter into the basilica. The ushers are making way for us. They open the barriers which allow us to process through the centre aisle of the basilica. People look at us, some take photographs. They know as well as we do that what we are doing is something special.
At the end of the aisle we proceed to the altar, covered by Bernini’s massive baldachino (canopy). The ushers then open the barrier that holds back the throngs of people from approaching the staircase leading to the tomb of St Peter. As we make our way to the tomb of St Peter, we pause before it and listen to words of Jesus who says to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church.”
This is all too much to take in. Not only have we been given special access to this sacred site, but in the words of Jesus we perhaps can hear him saying to each of us pilgrims, “You are the living stones that I will use to build my Church!”. We have been so blessed today. This will be a day that I and perhaps all the pilgrims will remember for the rest of our lives.
We celebrate Mass in the basilica at the Altar of St Joseph, then make our way around the huge basilica trying to take it all in. This is not my first time to the basilica, not even my second or third time yet I still marvel in the beauty and majesty of this great monument to God.
Following a stop for lunch and a bit of shopping, we make our way to Vatican Museum. The museum is filled with priceless artifacts and works of art. As we meander through the many corridors of history, we are in awe of the talent that God has given to the artists and artisans who have left a great inheritance for us.
Our museum tour culminates in the Sistine Chapel. The chapel is where the elections of the Pope have occurred for centuries. It is this room that thousands of people look to, waiting for the traditional signal of white smoke to bellow from the chimney atop this building, signalling that a pope has been elected.
Our pilgrims sit in awe of this room, so full of history – our history. Many of history’s most influential men have sat in this room. This is a very special place for us.