If I expected a Sunday to allow me to catch up on some rest, I quickly discovered otherwise — and it was well worth it.
The Extraordinary Synod has two major public events: the opening Mass and the closing Mass. The first took place yesterday inside St. Peter’s Basilica, starting at 11 am. Since it seemed unlikely that I would get entry to that Mass, I instead attended Mass at Santu Spiritu in Sassia, a smaller but beautifully adorned church just off Via Conciliazione and about two minute’s walk from the Basilica. This church has an English-language liturgy every morning at 10 am, celebrated by a priest from New Jersey. Santu Spiritu in Sassia is a great example of what I call the working churches of Rome — with enormous artistic value and which lift up their local communities each day. English-speaking pilgrims and ex-pats in the area congregate here regularly; this is where I met fellow Minnesotans from Chesterton Academy on my previous visit to cover the papal conclave in March 2013.
Shortly afterward, I made my way to the square, where the Mass had already begun. As I noted on the previous day, the interest level in the public event had dropped significantly from the days of the conclave. A sizable crowd gathered in the square to see the Mass on four large screens erected for that purpose, but many appeared to be the normal tourist walking crowd. There were plenty of selfies getting taken; vendors have a new tool to allow people to set up the shot, a three-foot pole with a plastic clip on the end which can be yours for just €5!
Not everyone was as casual. A trio of priests navigating through the crowd stopped at a certain point in the Mass to bow and genuflect, startling a passerby:
During the Mass, I met up with an old-school blogger named Professor Chaos (who wrote at Outside the Beltway, among other places), who happened to be in town on other business. Originally we planned to have lunch together, which we did on the Borgo Pio, but later decided to stick together and see a couple of sights. We eventually settled on a plan to see Castel Gondolfo, the resort town in the hills outside of Rome where the Pope has a summer residence. We traveled there by train, a 40-minute ride that got delayed by 30 minutes. The train filled up with teens and young adults bound for Marino, which at the time puzzled us, but on the return trip they piled back on, in high spirits in more ways than one. The town had its annual grape festival this weekend, I later discovered, and many of them apparently partook of the product of that harvest.
When we first arrived in Castel Gandolfo, we were greeted by a cloudburst that made the cobblestone streets and walkways a bit of a challenge, but it cleared up soon enough. We didn’t get anywhere near the papal retreat — not that we really expected to do so — but spent a couple of hours walking through the picturesque town. Later I will post more pictures in slideshows here and at Catholic Match, but this statue of the Virgin Mary made for nice representation of the kind of day we had.
Later, we decided to stick together for dinner as well, and looked around for authentic Roman cuisine. We settled on that ancient Italian establishment … the Hard Rock Cafe. Not only did they feature their basic American menu, the staff spoke impeccable English. If it hadn’t been for the euro with which we paid the bill, we might have well had been in Chicago or New York. That may not be the most authentic experience we could have sought out, but at the end of a long day in a foreign country, it was undeniably comforting. Tomorrow, I’ll return to being a little more continental.
Update: A commenter asked what kind of camera I use, which gives me an excuse to free up my inner geek. I use a Canon EOS Rebel T2i, which is an older but very serviceable crop-sensor camera (as opposed to full-frame, which are more robust but a little less convenient). The lens used for these shots is a new Tamron 10-24mm wide-angle lens, which produces very clear and undistorted imagery.