Synod Diary, day 1

VATICAN CITY – Earlier today (or yesterday, as it will be for me when this post goes live), I landed in Rome to start my coverage of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, in partnership with Catholic Match and Catholic Match Institute. The coverage here will be more than just reporting who said what, when and why, although it certainly will feature plenty of that kind of reporting. We’re also hoping to give a flavor of what being here is like, both in the coverage and outside of it. As I mentioned in a Headlines entry, some of my material will appear exclusively at Catholic Match’s Synod coverage web site, so be sure to keep an eye on both sites.

The first day turned out to be quite an adventure — some of it predictably so, and some not. After the last trip, I learned a lesson about staying close enough to the action to be able to access it. A few weeks ago, I arranged to rent a small one-bedroom apartment just a couple of blocks from St. Peter’s Square. The bad news was that it took several hours to get fully into the apartment, thanks to my early-morning arrival and a couple of miscommunications. For a time, I thought I’d get dumped out on the street with my luggage for several hours, but Valerio (the driver) called in a favor at a local hotel, allowing me to leave my bags with the concierge. Afterward, Valerio insisted on buying me a cup of coffee, which I drank Americano style, much to his amusement. “I have to have it strong,” he told me as he sipped his espresso.

That gave me some time to run an important errand — getting my press credentials. I took a stroll through St. Peter’s Square and got a nice picture of St. Peter’s Basilica and the colonnades:


After I picked up my press credentials, I still had a while to wait to get into my flat. That gave me a little time to set myself up in the press room, where I spoke briefly with Vatican spokesman Fr. Thomas Rosica. (Read more about that in this exclusive for Catholic Match.) After that, I spent the majority of the afternoon on various logistical tasks, mainly about the apartment.  It’s a third-floor walkup, which was really a problem when getting the luggage up the stairs, but otherwise it’s pretty cozy. The bed is a queen size and seems comfortable, although I didn’t lay down in it for the fear of never getting back up until tomorrow. Truthfully, I probably will spend so little time in it that the basic concern is functionality, and on that score it’s better than I expected. The free wi-fi is a little dodgier, but sufficient. I tested out the Internet connection for a possible TEMS appearance, but it doesn’t look good. Too slow and dodgy, but it works for everything else so far. We’ll see how long it takes to upload the videos.

Later in the early evening, I had an appointment for a background meeting with a veteran Vaticanista, but had an opportunity to take a few pictures along the way. Pope Francis presided over a vigil service this evening for the start of the Synod tomorrow, and the square had a considerable number of people in it — although it was not full by any means, certainly nothing like what was seen at the conclave last year. The big TV screens were back, and the program could be heard for several blocks. The service was entirely in Italian, and at least thus far there hasn’t been an official English translation released yet. Instead, I concentrated on images and people. Shortly after the pontiff’s homily, the sun went down directly behind St. Peter’s Basilica:


This is a Synod on the Family, in which the Catholic Church seeks to find ways to get people fired up about family life within the Catholic context. Some took the message to heart a little more than others.


Of all the reactions in the crowd, this was the most unique. Those who turned out to see this vigil service seemed focused on the service, not so much on the Pope, who presided over the event. Unlike the mass celebrations over Francis the last time I was here, this seems to be business as usual — at least for the moment. The couple seen above stood just about where the crowd overran the barriers for the papal installation Mass in March 2013.  The exuberation of those times appears to have settled comfortably into a business as usual vibe, even if what will take place over the next couple of weeks may not seem that way to some.