The Canonization of Saints John Paul II and John XXIII

It’s the anniversary of the canonization of Saints John Paul II and John XXIII. It was such an amazing experience that I wanted to re-live it and share it with you.

I organized a pilgrimage to Italy for the canonization for Lino Rulli and Fr. Dave Dwyer. We had a group of about 40 people, but when the reality set in of sleeping overnight on the streets of Rome to get into the Mass, only 13 brave souls came out.

As years of attending Papal events has taught me, no one ever knows anything. The day before the canonization, I did some recon work to find out exactly where the line would start, and when security would open – I received about 15 different answers.

Quite a few people were camping out all day in the piazza, or just outside. Security said that they would be removed so they could sweep the area.

Most people I asked said the piazza would reopen between 5 – 7 a.m. Most also said the line would begin down Conciliazione near Castel Sant’Angelo.

With this info, and based on the recent inaugural Mass of Pope Francis and the Beatification of JPII a few years back, I decided we’d be leaving the hotel at 10 p.m.

We left at 10:11 p.m.

By 10:57 p.m. we were a block away from where I hoped they would open security. The streets were packed, but we were able to find a place to sit. Also, the port-a-potties were nearby – is that a pro?

Just as we were settling in for the night, at 11:40 p.m., a police car made it’s way down the street. Everyone had to get up to make room.

Shortly after, an ambulance came through. People, of course, followed the ambulance to get a little closer. It got really crowded, but we still had room to sit.

At 12:07 a.m. I saw an opening on a little side street connecting to the spot they would open at 5 a.m. I had everyone weave through the crowd to get us over there. I was quite happy with myself. Within minutes of thinking that, another ambulance came through. This time everyone stood to let it pass, but so many people had followed, that there was no more room to sit. We were crushed and I was no longer happy with myself. Or with the other 500,000 people who were crushing us.

Only five more hours until security opens. #canonization #rome #vatican

A photo posted by Mountain Butorac (@mountainbutorac) on

I would never, ever, ever abandon one of my groups. Ever. But I was trying to figure out a way to abandon my group. I could not imagine standing like this for five hours. It didn’t feel safe. I had a slight panic attack. But then I calmed down. Of course I wasn’t going to leave them. A sense of peace came over me as I realized where we were, who we were, and what we were doing. A half a million Catholics on pilgrimage to a Mass to canonize a pope who lived during our lifetime.

It was at this time that I realized I could see the gate they would open at 5 a.m. and it was only half a block away. I also noticed that security was letting a few people through. I instructed the group to follow me, the best they could being packed in the way they were. Perhaps to alleviate some of the dangerous over-crowding, the security guards waved us through, and we sprinted down the wide open via Conciliazione.

By 1:42 a.m. we were comfortably sitting just outside Saint Peter’s Square.

And by 2:08 a.m., some of my people were sleeping.

The next few hours people sang, prayed, and laughed. It was great. Then people got antsy…

And a friend checked in to be sure I’d be able to keep posting updates from the line.

At 4:33 a.m., we finally started moving.

It got a little tight, but the crowd was quite pleasant. It was a constant shuffle, which is better than running, where someone could be trampled – like at Pope Francis’ inaugural Mass!

I was shocked at how calm people were as they entered the piazza. No running.

By 6:34 a.m., I was standing in the square.

We ended up in a great spot with plenty of room to sit.

And I was close enough to even see Pope Benedict!

And feel the bells…

I don’t know what I was thinking, but I was really hoping both popes would jump in the pope mobile and drive around after Mass. Didn’t happen, but I would have lost my mind.

And after the Mass, it was easy to get on the rail for the drive-by.

Those who stayed behind were smart, it was a tough night. But the group who came with me were amazing.

And they all survived…

This still stands, by the way.

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