Looking back over some photos from last years trip to Italy I came across some photos and video from one of our most favorite days at St. Peter's Basilica. As a fallen catholic being at the epicenter of the faith I was raised on was quite similar in feeling to running into an old lover unexpectedly. Of course there was no animosity, but most certainly a deep longing for what was, and flashes of wonderful memories long forgotten.
I did find, as I walked through the Basilica surrounded by the icons of my faith, a deep ache rising within me. I missed the ritual, I missed the icons, I missed the prayers, and dearly missed that feeling of lightness after an inspiring homily.
My experience ,in comparison ,was completely different from my husbands. Brian was raised in the Lutheran faith, actually a Missouri Sinead Lutheran, for anyone that is familiar with that you will understand how strict his church was. In the Lutheran faith there are no icons, no statues, no stations of the cross, no paintings, no medallions, and amazingly enough no Mary. Well, they believe there was a Jewish girl that gave birth to Jesus but she is not celebrated, or venerated like she is in the Catholic faith.
So was it divine providence that during the time we would be spending in Rome, the Vatican would be celebrating one of the most important days for the faithful that hold the Madonna so dear ? Oct 13 1917 marks the day of the final visitation of Our Lady of Fatima to three small children in Portugal, and the day when "The miracle of the sun" took place. You see it was Marian Day at the Vatican, and we would be there to hear Pope Francis speak.
We arrived two hours early knowing the crowds would be massive, a brilliant plan actually because when we arrived there was still seating left. There were several areas barricaded off closer to the front of the crowd with hundreds of empty chairs, I just assumed they were being held for someone of great importance and I was happy to sit much further back in the crowd. Not the Lutheran, he grabbed me by the hand and led me through the crowded square right up to the empty seats, and surprise, surprise they were open to the public. We sat for some time in a St Peter's Square awaiting the start of the day, surrounded by contingencies of the faithful from every corner of the globe. Looking up at the stage we could see microphones and several chairs, one in particular was deep crimson velvet with a tall regal back, Brian asked "Is that where the Pope sits ?" This being my first event at St Peter's I told him I wasn't sure but most likely.
All of a sudden there was a restlessness that swept through the crowd, a buzz from the back of the 80,000 strong confluence. She was here. It started slowly but grew quickly to the recognizable song I remember as a child, Ave Ave Ave Maria. There deep in the back of the crowd on a platform covered in flowers and carried on the shoulders of the Swiss Guard was Our Lady of Fatima. The procession had begun and all bets were off, anyone and everyone that could climb up and stand on their chair did so. As the singing grew greater the handkerchiefs appeared, and once again the curious Lutheran, who must have by now been blown away to see the love that Catholics have for Mary, asked yet another question, "why are they waving hankies?"
I will be the first to admit that I was moved to tears that day in St Peter's Square. I have loved the Virgin Mary all my life, but to be a part of that wave of love and adoration was epic, a memory one could not meausure in dollars, a moment I will cherish forever. Even more importantly, I had been with Brian as he witnessed just what The Virgin Mary means to so many across the globe. Brian too showed signs of deep emotion, although it must have been so foreign to him to see this display, deep down I believe he fell a little bit in love with Mary that day.
The Madonna proceeded to the front and was greeted by the Pope, who had waited patiently for her as she made her way around the entire square, he escorted her and the Swiss Guard up to the top of the stairs. Once again the Lutheran watched as Mary and not Pope Francis was placed in the most important chair on the dais. He leaned in and whispered in my ear, "Mary got the big chair !"
Yes Brian, she did.