By Ben Resini
When I first set foot in Rome, I knew instantly I was in a special place that would transform the entire trajectory of my adult life. That may sound like an embellishment of my usual glowing accolades for the Eternal City, but it’s the truth.
I felt an instant connection with Rome, with my Italian ancestry and an unfamiliar sense that I had finally “made it home.”. I would come to find out after my first trip to Italy that these feelings are not uncommon for Italian Americans. Many of us feel a deep-seeded draw to our ancestral homeland, to our family that came before us and to the traditions that still guide us in our daily lives here in America.
One of those traditions, perhaps the most important of all, was ensuring I attended Mass at least once on my trip. A quick check on the Vatican’s website calendar confirmed the very next morning Pope Francis would be conducting a special Mass in St. Peter’s Square for a new canonization. Seeing I had only one final day remaining in Rome, I made it a point to catch the early bus into Vatican City.
The following hours were perhaps the most memorable of my life. Thousands of pilgrims from all corners of the world steadily gathered in St. Peter’s Square to attend the Mass. I sat in amazement at the plethora of anxiously awaiting faithful that chilly November morning. The growing crowd seemed harmonious and jubilant. I’ve never seen so many people smiling before in my life, some waving flags of their countries, others deep in prayer with tears of happiness.
An unabashed kinship between complete strangers seemed to engulf the square that morning while the radiant midwinter sun provided a little extra warmth to the world’s faithful. I left Italy later that day a different person, having experienced something I immediately longed for again. I saw humankind at its finest, our anxieties and fears seeming to temporarily relinquish in a sea of joy and compassion for each other.
Most trips to Italy are memorable no matter who you are. As Italy reopens to the world we will soon see a return to the crowded cobblestone streets and bustling cacophony of international visitors. If you happen to be one of them, be sure to eat your gelato, toss your coins in the fountain, and take that short trip across the Tiber to Vatican City for Papal Mass. You won’t regret it.
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW
• A Calendar of Ceremonies and Mass Information can be found at www.vatican.va
• St. Peter’s Square is easily accessible by foot or bus from all of Rome.
• The Papal audience is typically held every Wednesday when the Pope is in Rome.
• Special Papal Masses are held for canonizations of saints, Easter and Christmas celebration and special ceremonies. Tickets are free but should be secured early to ensure availability.
• Allocate an entire morning to attending. Masses held in St. Peter’s Square on special occasions are usually more than two hours in length.