Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pope John Paul II's Funeral

As Pope Benedict the XVI steps down this week, I remember being in Rome 8 years ago (wow, has it really been 8 years) when Pope John Paul II died and Pope Benedict XVI was elected.  Here is the e-mail (this was pre-blog for me) that I sent back to family and friends following the funeral.

Hello all,

This has obviously been an extraordinary week here in
Rome.  As I mentioned before the Pope died on
, and I was at my friend's bar when we found
out.  We then made our way to St. Peter's square,
where we and thousands of others paid our respects to
the fallen pontiff.  The square was so deathly quiet
as to be able to hear the fountains, even with
thousands of people in the square.

On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I had to work near the
colosseum.  I avoided the square on Sunday, but on
Momday afternoon I went over there for a while.  I got
into the piazza as they were letting people in for the
transfer of the popes body to the square.  I had to
work that afternoon  so I couldn't stay for the
transfer, but I realized that people were arriving at
noon for the transfer around six.  At the time I
thought they were crazy, but I had no idea about the
lines that would follow.  Monday night, we attempted
to go view the body figuring too many people wouldn't
be there  at midnight.  We soon gave up as we weren't
able to even see the line, because there was aline to
go to the line.Again on Tuesday, I worked all day at
the colosseum, but the area near my house was
absolutely packed.  People were coming from all parts
of the city, the country, and the world to view the
body of the pope.  Surprisingly, the rest of the city
seemed to be fairly empty.  Even less busy that

On Wednesday, I had the Vatican tour at 930.  There
was absolutely no line for the museums.  I had a group
of about 15 people and Sam followed my tour.  This was
the last day that the Sitine Chapel was to be open, so
everyone was quite happy they got to see it.  Even
though there were a million people lined up to see the
pope, noone at all was coming to the museums.  We were
all flabbergasted.

On Thursday I was supposed to do a gathering tour, but
there was again no line, so instead I got to promo
tours.  Sam, Jules, Linden, Keely (friends from the
hostel) and I were planning on camping out on thursday
 to go to the funeral on Friday.  The three girls
cancelled out on us and it was just Sam and I.  When
we went out, we soon realized the futility of our
purpose becasue no one was getting anywhere near the
square until the morning.  After walking around a
while and seeing all the campers, we headed back to my
apt around  1 or so.

We got up on Friday at 530 and were at Piazza
Risorgimento.  I (correctly) figured that they would
let people in from that direction because metal
detectors are set up there normally for papal
audiences and etc.  We waited for about an hour and
then we managed to get ourselves onto the road that
leads to the square.  We were less than 100 meters
away from the columns, but it took over 2 hours to get

When we got inside, we were quite lucky as they first
filled in the piazza on the outside and they had just
recently opened the center of the piazza.  Sam and I
got a spot near the obelisk, and we could even sit on
the railing there.  Essentially we had optimal seats
as we were right in the middle and not that far back. 
I wouldn't have dreamed of having that good of a spot,
s we were really lucky.  There were quite a few french
people near us, including a group of French priests
and it was quite neat to see them as they sang and
stuff before the funeral.

At about tenn til 9, the bell of St. Peter's began to
ring.  Normally they just play a recording, but they
used the real bell then.  The bell rang for about 10
minutes and then the procession out of the church
began.  When they brought the pope's casket (a very
simple wooden casket with his personally designed
insigna on it), a wind began to circle around the
square.  It unfurled the flags and the applause for
the pontiff began - which cotinued for several
minutes.  The procession of his coffin was very
emotional and many people (myself included) were quite

The mass itself was quite nice and it was really neat
the way they did it in many different languages.  He
was Polish, but he was truly a Pope of the entire
world and doing portions in all the different
languages (including Swahilli and Fillipino) was quite
appropriate.  The unfortunate side effect of this was
that it was nearly impossible to understand the
funeral.  The Homily was quite nice and especially
interesting as the crowd kept interuppting with
applause.  I heard over 13 times, the Cardianl had to
stop to allow the applause to die down.

At one point during the mass, the applause grew quite
fervent and long, and in several parts of the square
banners were revealed saying "Santo Subito" or
immediate saint.  They were calling for John Paul II's
immediate  sainthood.  I heard accounts of spontaneous
calling of Santo or Saint, but it wasn't really
spontaneous as the signs were clearly made before

At the end of the service, things began to again
become very emotional.  The crowd cheered and clapped
loudly as they began to return into the church.  As
they carried the Pope's casket inside, you could see
everyone visibly straining to catch one last glimpse
of the pope.  Then, as if in response, the pall
bearers, turned around and bowed the pope down for a
final honor.  Once again, quite an emotional time for
everyone there.  Ashe finally entered the church for
the last time, I looked around and the emotion in the
square could be phisically felt.  We were no longer
mourning his death, everyone was celebrating his life.
I half - expected to turn around and see people
holding up lighters for an encore.  That may seem
innapropriate, but that was the feeling that the
square had.  In addition, as the pope's casket fell
from view, the sun began to shine for the first time
that morning.

It took very little time (relatively) to get out of
the square once the funeral was over.  The area was an
absolute mess.  Newspaper and water bottles
everywhere.  Amazingly this morning everything was
really clean.

Italy often seems to be the most disorganized country
in the world, but they impressed me and the rest of
the world with their effort this last week.  Things
were busy, but they were able to double the population
of their city, on just a few days notice and handle
the influx with very few problems.  I have heard of
one person dying from a heart attack, but that was it.
Considering Rome was essentially the largest Polish
city in the world the last few days, that is

Well, I hope everyone enjoys my account of the Pope's
funeral.  Please feel free to ask me anything that I
may not have covered, i tried to get it all, but it
has  been complete sensory overload.


View of the funeral from the Square

Sam when we first arrived

Before the funeral

Just after the funeral

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Winter fun

The last time I lived in America during the winter was 2009-2010.  That year, I experienced four blizzards in about two months.  This year has been much milder with virtually no snow to speak of.  Although we had a few flurries, we have had no accumulating snow.  The lack of snow, however, would not keep me from having some winter-time fun.

Last Tuesday, Sara invited me to a Washington Capitals game.  I'd never been to a hockey game before.  I was amazed at how much easier it was to follow hockey live than it was on television.  This is definitely a sport that is better in person than from home.  Plus, our seats - which Sara got from a friend with season tickets - were fantastic.  11 rows up from the ice, just behind one of the goals.  

In addition to the exciting nature of hockey (particularly during power plays), the NHL knows how to make the in-game experience enjoyable.  TV timeouts are not too numerous.  They bring out youth hockey players during intermission to play on the ice.  Unlike the NBA game I went to, they don't pump a bunch of artificial noise into the arena at all times.  You could hear the game and the fans, rather than the music.  For example, I learned some of the more nuanced rules from the guy next to Sara (as well as that #55 Schultz for the Caps is "the worst.")  Although the Caps lost the game, I really enjoyed the experience.

Add caption

The other bit of winter fun I had this week was a ski trip to the mountains in Western Maryland.  I thought it would be wise to try snow skiing at least once before I moved to Germany.  A group of friends from my A-100 class rented a lake house about 10 minutes from the mountain.  The house was amazing and we had a fantastic time hanging out.

Learning to ski was both fun and, at times, scary.  Our late start to the morning and long lines to rent equipment caused me to miss the 11 am beginners ski class and not get started until 1.  Almost immediately after I got the skis on, I realized how much I would like skiing.  After the class, I met up with my friends skied for probably the next two or three hours before getting back to the lodge.  Although I had a blast, the last run was awful.  I fell several times and had to even walk down one part of the slope that seemed too steep for me.  Not sure if it was so hard cause I was tired, the setting sun had turned much of the snow to ice, or the slope was simply harder.  But, I was ready to be done when I got down to the bottom

Lost my balance and fell over while standing
(in front of all of my friends, who had the common decency to take pictures).

Demonstrating the proper snow plow technique