The Day of Four Popes

We’ve had a truckload of holidays around here of late. First there was Easter, which unfortunately coincided this year with Hitler’s birthday and 4/20 (the unofficial holiday of the marijuana enthusiast). Then came Rome’s 2767th birthday, which coincided with Pasquetta (‘Little Easter,’ otherwise known as The Day That All Italians Race Outside to Have A Picnic, Rain or Shine). Then came the Italian Day of Liberation, which marks the ousting of the Nazis in 1945 and which coincided with World Penguin Day. But the real news last week was the Day of Four Popes.

This is what Saint Peter's looks like with a crowd in front of it (not yesterday's crowd mind you -- this was a prayer vigil for peace in Syria that Pope Francis held last year).

This is what Saint Peter’s looks like with a crowd in front of it (not yesterday’s crowd, mind you — this was a prayer vigil for peace in Syria that Pope Francis held last year).

Two of the four popes were alive — well, one alive and one alive-ish: the new guy, Francis, whom everyone agrees is a breath of fresh air pope-wise and the old guy, Benedict XVI, who quit last year and is now known as Pope Emeritus. The other two popes — John XXIII and John Paul II — were not alive as it is quite uncommon — despite the Upstairs Vegetarian’s fervent desire — to achieve sainthood in one’s lifetime. One assumes they were there in spirit. It’s also quite uncommon (as in it’s never happened) for two popes to be involved in a ceremony canonizing two other popes. So it was a pretty big deal and the pilgrims came a’running, mostly from Poland whence hailed John Paul II. An estimated 800 000 people crowded into St. Peter’s Square. The poor old U.V. — whose day job is being a famous newshound (her night job is falling asleep in front of the TV and being annoying about vegetables) — had to be at the Vatican at 4:30 to cover the story. I woke at my leisure and watched a bit of the ceremony on TV.

The double canonization was not without controversy. John Paul II was fast-tracked, a move that had popular support: people chanted santo subito (sainthood now!) during his funeral service. Some question whether the apparent recovery of two women from medical afflictions, supposedly after praying to the pope, can really be considered a miracle (it didn’t turn out too well for this guy). Others feel that John Paul II has no right to sainthood given his role in sheltering sex predator priests. Meanwhile, John XXIII only had one of the two obligatory miracles to show for himself. It seems to me like this pope-apalooza was a bit more about politics — the Catholic Church being very fractured at the moment for various reasons — than about religion. But what do I know? I’m not even catholic.

Anyway, the Morgster and I went out for a little saunter downtown yesterday afternoon (where we nearly got drowned by the weather, but that’s another story). Having camped out all night to ensure a spot in St. Peter’s Square, having endured the world’s smelliest PortaPotties, which were set up along the colonnade (to answer your question, Mom and Dad) and having sat through a very long ceremony indeed, the pilgrims skedaddled to central Rome afterwards for a little art and culture. They were everywhere and very easy to spot. Papal Pilgrims travel in packs, carry collapsible chairs and wear matching rain ponchos — and sometimes umbrella hats — like these guys below. I haven’t seen an umbrella hat since college!

The guy in green was the leader.

The head pilgrim gets to wear a different color poncho.

 

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