Today is Christmas Eve and it will be a late night for us so we only had a couple of things to do before resting up for tonight’s service.  The first place we have wanted to see is the Borghese Gallery which is located above the Spanish steps and a couple of kilometers through the park.  The villa was built in the early 17th century by the great art collector Cardinal Scipione Borghese.  It is full of wonderful Bernini sculptures as well as paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, and Rubens.  Unfortunately I could not take any pictures.  But was able to take some pictures of the park outside.  Once finished there we walked (a total of 8 kilometers) further to the Priscilla Catacombs.  We entered from a convent and explored, with a guide, the result of 250 years of tunneling that occurred from the second to the fifth centuries.  There were 40,000 buried there along with some beautiful frescoes.  Here, too, I could not take pictures.  I snuck a couple but they came out a little blurry. We rested back at the hotel for the afternoon and then left around 5:30 to take the metro over to the Vatican.  We stood in the line for ticket holders next to fellow Americans serving in the Navy stationed in Naples.  Conversation with them helped to pass the couple hours before they would start letting people in.  We eventually got through the security check and found our seats around 8:15.  There was so much excitement and activity around us that we passed the time just watching everyone.  They started processing people up the middle aisle fairly early – I guess they were other priests, cantors, boys choir.  Television camera’s were set up everywhere and people were taking pictures constantly.  Sometimes it seemed like a rock concert than a church service.  Trumpets started playing from the back balcony and then the Pope’s processional got started about 9:30.  I wasn’t sure what he looked like and it was so hard to see because everyone was juggling to get a good picture and they are all wearing the same thing.  So the service starts.  There were no choir anthems, just singing of the liturgy and readings.  The readings were read by people of about 5 different countries.  The Pope seems old and frail and a lot of time his words were hard to understand.  But he is probably reading words that he has read VERY frequently and just breezes through.  There was a lot of standing, sitting, and some kneeling with many people not knowing what to do.  Most people DID know to stand for the gospel reading though.  We heard so much English spoken that we figured only about half the attendees were Italians.  The service finished up about 11:30 as the whole recessional took place.  Once the Pope reached the back of the church and stepped outside (I guess) you could hear the huge crowd outside on St. Peter’s square cheering from inside the cathedral.  It took awhile to maneuver ourselves out of the cathedral and we were then quickly on our way back to the hotel.  We had to walk because all public transportation shuts down at 9:30.  Walking through the streets of Rome a 11:45 p.m. was very quiet -kind of cool though.  Certainly a Christmas we will always remember.

Advertisements