Sunday, May 8, 2011

Home from Rome 3: Personal reflections on the recent 'pilgrimage' Part 1

First of all, I'm very pleased that everything seems to have gone so well yesterday at the Westminster Blogmeet to plan a possible 'Guild of Catholic Bloggers'. I won't comment on it until more reports appear on other blogs and don't expect to hear until this evening from my personal representative at the meeting.

Setting out, an the Day of Beaticication
I should not have dreamed of going, had I not been selected for invitation to the Vatican meeting. I went with only one expectation, and that was that it would not be easy. At least part of me wanted to stay in the comfort zone of home. I silenced that voice in my heart as lily-livered cowardice, but here are some of the thingst that made me wonder whether I was wise or equipped to go at all, or whether I was being foolhardy to take up the challenge. On the other hand I faced the possibility, if not the probability, that this may be the only chance I would ever have to see St. Peter's  and perhaps even the Pope at the Wednesday General Audience.
It would be my first time in Rome and I would be totally alone there. It would be brutally busy because of the Beatification. I would have to have wheelchair assistance at both airports because I can no longer manage stairs of escalators. My walking stick would be essential whilst in Rome, but at the same time would clearly announce my vulnerability to any ill-disposed witness of my halting progress through the streets surrounding the Vatican. The only confirmed event before I left home was the Vatican meeting, but even for that I had to be prepared to make my way there without assistance. I had a new mobile and a digital camera but apart from these was definitely electronically under-equipped.  Woud my presence be justified? Would there be opportunity to make a contribution? Was I being selfish in going when many others would be of more use in the place alloted to me? Even after the arrangements were made and there was 'no going back', these thoughts argued with each other in my head. By the time I set off on Saturday morning, I had decided to take the whole thing as a pilgrimage and had faith that I was in God's hands, my Guardian Angel would look after me and you would be praying for me.

On Saturday morning therefore, I left here with three emotions doing an odd battle within: serenity, anxiety and joyous excitement.

I write the rest of this as a log, because after all the word blog is a contraction of 'web log'. In this instance it's a sharing of parts of my 'spiritual' diary'. By its nature it thus involves more use of the first person, than I have usually employed in Oasis posting.

My fears about the journey itself proved totally unfounded because of the excellent care of airport staff - Air France at Bordeaux and Al Italia at Fiumicino - the latter delivering me direct to a taxi and helping me into it. This wheelchair experience was a first for me, and I learned something of what it must be like as a seriously disabled person. Parked by the check in desk in the departure lounge, I learned what is like to be unable to see what is going on behind , and to have one's weakness displayed before everyone there. It was not pleasant and I took that to heart as the first lesson of my pilgrimage.

It was dull, rainy and quite chilly when we arrived in Rome. The journey to the hotel, which was on the via Aurelia side of the Vatican, seemed to pass quickly and soon I caught my first glimpse of  the greyish bulk of the dome of St Peter's, momentarily dominating everything else in vision. Nothing felt real. I still didn't believe I was actually there.

I had been pre-warned by several people not to attempt St. Peter's Square for the Beatification and this advice was reinforced by a very kind and sensible young female receptionist. And so resigning myself to watching it on TV in the morning, learned how to operate all the electronic gadgetry in my room and began to settle in and calm down. Knowing the hotel only did breakfast, I'd brought a baguette sandwich from home and therefore dined on bread, ham and water. The ham was the only meat I ate in Rome. As you will see later, there was very definitely an element of fasting and abstinence, gladly accepted as appropriate to a pilgrim's diet. Night Prayer and then sleep. Unlike the Anchoress I slept soundly all the time I was there, sheer exhaustion overcoming excitement and anxiety. I continually thanked God for this blessing of peaceful sleep..My Angel obviously knew that I needed to be properly rested to face the minor trial of the following afternoon.

The Breakfast buffet was excellent and plentiful. On the tip of my friend Mary, I was able to pack enough away in my bag to keep body and soul together for the next 24 hours. At that stage I did not know whether there would be a chance to buy anything or eat elsewhere. After breakfast returned to the room,  settled down to The Office and then to watch the Beatification. The screen in my room was large and very clear. I tried several photos during the Beatification but do not know whether they will come out at all successfully. Probably not, but it was worth a try. In any case photos taken during the four days will probably not be posted until next weekend.

It was a strange experience, to watch on TV, something so moving and important to our faith, when it was taking place 5 minutes away. Also odd to sit alone in the quiet room whilst thousands were assembled with the Holy Father just down the road. Probably fear of the unknown and my own immobility were the only things that prevented me from breaking out and trying to get down there! The 'pull' was very great but had to be resisted. I think it may have been at that point that I began to accept just how much my physical and nervous capacity has been eroded by the passage of the 5years since my retirement and how blithely I had taken them for granted until then. It was a passing but serious prayer as the Beatification unfolded.

When it was over, another battle began to rage inside. Dylan and I had agreed by email to try and meet in the Square in the afternoon. I couldn't get his mobile number to work. Should I try to keep the appointment? Set off at about 3.30 and managed to get as far as the  Colonade before the crowds began to make progress difficult. I followed the Colonnade round to the entrance to the Square. By then it was very difficult to make any progress at all.There were barriers across the entrance to the Square. People were being allowed to exit from the side I came to first, and to enter by the farther side. It was mayhem. The ground underfoot was strewn with a filthy carpet of  ripped up newspaper, I suppose left by pigrims who had camped in the Square overnight. Fearful of slipping, of pickpockets, bagsnatchers and all the other dangers of which I'd been warned, I turned with bag round my neck and  clutched close to my body, and began the weary and rather frightened way back to the hotel. It was hot by then and those cruel and quite dangerous Roman cobbles, again which Mary had waned me about, began to take their toll. Someone at home had said 'You'll be able to use your stick as a weapon'. By now it was all I could do to walk with it at all, leave alone to crack someone over the head with it and start an 'incident'! Having crossed the road at the point where the Vaticah Wall ends, I went on a while and then realised that somehow I had missed my way. At a road crossing just before the station I asked a Policewoman for help. She spoke English but directed me entirely wrongly, and I ended up badly lost in the hilly network of streets surrounding the hotel. Whereas half an hour before , the press of crowds had made progress almost impossible, now, under a glaring sun, the sleepy lanes  of the Roman afternoon contained nobody to ask for help.

Tears were close and my legs were objecting to the demands being placed upon them, but there was no point in giving in. Obviously I did eventually find my way back, or you would not be reading this! All of life is a pilgrimage, but the perhaps hackneyed symbolism became a total reality in  the circumstances I was experiencing. One makes a pilgrimage in search of God, one listens for His 'Still Small Voice' , so that one may hear, love, fear and obey Him. In the last 15 to 20 minutes of my 'lost sheep' wandering on Sunday afternoon I learned so much and I will try to share it with you tomorrow and then continue to Monday and the meeting and so on................

God bless all here,
In Christo pro Papa

No comments: