If you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning (so basically, just my parents), then you might remember the few weeks I spent in Italy two years ago. Altogether, I spent a little over three weeks exploring Italy, and the entire adventure kicked off in Rome the week leading up to Easter Sunday.
I’ve thought about that trip many times since it was the first time I traveled abroad extensively without my parents, and because the entire experience seemed so incredibly unbelievable. There aren’t many who can say their first time in Italy was spent largely at the Vatican listening to the pope, after all.
There’s really no comparison I can make to the feeling of Rome just before Easter. I’ve since been to New Orleans the week before Mardi Gras, and while both places are abuzz with excitement in the days leading up to their big events, Rome is an experience in and of itself.
Many of the shops had signs listing their Easter hours (almost everything except for the restaurants shut down), and the convenience stores throughout the city were bursting with Easter chocolates and Columba cakes, which are reminiscent of an American fruitcake (except that people actually eat the Columba cakes).
Earlier in the week, my friend, Hannah, and I had attended a papal audience. It’s a weekly service where the pope addresses the masses in St. Peter’s Square. At the time, I thought the number of people for the papal audience was large—little did I know how hectic it’d be come Easter.
The night before Easter Sunday, Hannah and I were all aflutter. We were nervous that we’d get to the square too late or too early, that there wouldn’t be a place for us to stand, that we’d get hungry during the service—for someone who’s not even Catholic, I was pretty nervous about the timing of the whole event. After all, we’d chosen this particular week to visit Rome because it was Easter weekend.
Come Easter morning, we were up and out of our AirBNB by 6am. We didn’t have much cash to spare, so our breakfast included bread and fruit (big mistake—always go to Easter mass on a full stomach).
Within moments of our departure, it started to rain heavily. Though a bit put out, we were determined to make it to St. Peter’s Square in time to get a decent spot to stand.
I don’t remember much about that early morning trek other than the sheer number of people streaming out of the subway station. It was controlled chaos, at best. The fact that a solid 90% of people entering the square didn’t speak the same language didn’t help the matter much either.
Although we arrived just before 7am, the seats in the square had already been filled. Hannah and I managed to snag a spot just behind the chairs to stand for the service. Don’t be fooled though, we were still a long way from the front of St. Peter’s Basilica.
While waiting for the noon service, we did…well, nothing. It was raining so hard that water began dripping through my umbrella and onto my head. Between the rain, the cold, and the huge number of people around us, we couldn’t really hear much, so we stood in damp silence for a long while.
The beauty of St. Peter’s Square is that it seems to fit in an infinite number of people. Just when I thought it was as full as it could get, more people wedged themselves in between the columns of surrounding it.
I didn’t know this when I was standing there in the middle of the square, but there were also hundreds of people lined up in the streets around the square. All for Easter Sunday, isn’t that wild?
At long last, the sermon started (sorry if I’m mislabeling the terms here. I’m not Catholic, but that’s what we call church services at home). Pope Francis spoke in Latin, which made me feel like everyone in the square was in this together, in a way. I doubt anyone listening spoke Latin, and it was nice to feel like we were all vaguely confused together.
I was surprised that the pope spoke to us from the square and not from inside the basilica. I had expected him to speak from inside to a smaller audience so the entire service could be streamed to those waiting outside.
As it was, he spoke to all in St. Peter’s Square directly. He has a powerful voice, in my opinion, and didn’t seem nervous at all. Interspersed throughout the sermon were bits of singing, which was incredible to listen to.
The monks and nuns from all over the world who had made the pilgrimage to St. Peter’s were recognized in the sermon as well, and each group cheered when their name was called.
Once the sermon was over, Hannah and I stood doggedly in the square for another 45 minutes or so until Pope Francis reemerged from his window in the basilica to deliver the papal blessing.
And just like that, the entire thing was over. Stiff from standing in the freezing rain, we hightailed it out of the square. We didn’t have a particular direction in mind, but we were trying to beat the crowds (again, no clue what we were trying to get ahead of everyone for, but after standing still for so long it felt good to walk).
We settled down at a nearby café for some much-needed lunch. Maybe it was because I was frozen solid, or maybe because it was Easter, but I do believe that spaghetti carbonara was the best thing I’ve ever eaten.
Once we had stuffed ourselves, we went back to our AirBNB and promptly passed out for an afternoon nap. The great thing about Easter Sunday is that there’s never anything on the agenda except spending time with friends and family and taking a good, long nap.
Hopefully you enjoyed this post. I know it’s not a helpful guide like I normally write, but it’s been two years since I spent Easter at the Vatican, and I felt like it was time to share my story.
What’s your most memorable Easter experience? I’d love to hear from you!
PS. All of these photos were taken the day of the papal audience, as it was too crowded for me to take any photos before or after the Easter Sunday service.