It's nearly 2am here in Rome and I really should be getting some sleep after the absolutely flat out day I just had, but I am far too wired to go to bed!!
Today I planned to go to the Vatican Museums and see the Sistine Chapel also (which I did and will post about them later) and then had planned to stock myself up with food, water and waterproof clothing and stand out in St Peter's Square for hours waiting for the Christmas Eve mass at midnight. You can of course, go into the Basilica for the mass, however you need a ticket for this and I was unable to procure any in my preparations for the trip. All the websites I looked on also said that getting tickets was notoriously difficult. So I had totally given up all notions of being inside St Peter's for the mass. Plus, I knew it was going to rain so I was prepared for a challenging night!
Little did I know that I would end up not only being inside St Peter's for the mass but would be barely metres from the High Altar and the Pope. This all came about because I happened to be in the right place at the right time (and with a little help from above I am sure!)
The mass this evening was at 10pm and I was not sure of how packed the square would get, so after finishing up at the Vatican Museums at about 2.30pm I walked past St Peter's Square and could see people milling around but no one actually settling in. So I went back to the hotel and got myself all ready with warm clothes, waterproof shoes, umbrella and extra food. I figured that if I went back and it was still empty, I could just wait in a coffee shop nearby until people started arriving. I'll just add at this point that it had been raining non-stop all day so I didn't want to have to be out in the rain any longer than I had to!
So I was back in St Peter's Square by about 3.30pm and could see that people were lining up in the rain for something. I thought it may have been to get inside the barricaded off section outside with seats, so I milled around a bit and waited until I heard someone speaking English and asked if they knew what the line was for. They said it was to get inside the Basilica for the mass if you had a ticket but if you didn't, then you would have to wait outside. This shows how busy it was going to get, given that there was already a line over 6 hours before the mass started! I thanked the people I had spoken to and went to go and wait under shelter for a bit, but they called me back and asked if I had a ticket. I said I didn't and a woman in their group said that she had some spares if I wanted one. Did I?!! I thanked them profusely and a guy in their group, who had recognised my accent as Australian, told me that given as I had come further than most people to be there, they couldn't let me just wait outside.
I couldn't believe my good luck!!! All my hopes had been to find an OK spot in the huge square, standing all night, but suddenly I was in! The people I had spoken to actually gave me two tickets, so when someone later on came around looking for a ticket for his friend who had just made it to Rome unexpectedly, I was only too happy to give the other one away. See, what goes around comes around! This act was seen by two women behind me who were quite taken by it and we got talking. They were a mother and daughter from the US who were in Rome and like me, really excited to be there for the mass.
Given that this all happened before 4pm and we didn't get in to the Basilica until just before 9pm, we had plenty of time to get to know each other. Plus it was raining non stop this entire time and everyone was drenched, even with umbrellas. So it was great being able to spend this (challenging!) time in good company. Then our group of three became friends with 3 more American girls behind us. And then our group of 6 became friends with another American guy and girl in front of us. So after waiting for about 5 hours, chatting all the while, we agreed that when we finally were allowed in, we would all sit together and not leave anyone behind. And so we did. By the time they let us in, the line was hundreds of metres long. Luckily we were at the front, but so many people had cut in along the way, it was not so much a line as a mob. There were a few short tempers exploding along the way as people got fed up with another group of tourists just magically appearing out of nowhere at the front of the line.
However, we finally made it in and got seats right up the front!! We all couldn't believe our good fortune to actually be there. I was still pinching myself that I actually got a ticket!
The mass itself was beautiful. The choir was divine and all the responses and hymns were in Latin with Gregorian Chant notation (which I think I've said before that I took lesson in with other close friends) so I was able to sing along! The service was in Latin and occasionally other languages were thrown in, so for the majority of the service, I couldn't understand what was being said. However, my 21 years of going to mass helped out a lot! I am looking forward to reading a translation of the Pope's homily – he always speaks superbly. Although it was a long service, over 2 hours, it did not feel like it at all. I was perfect happiness the entire time – this was such a dream come true for me and it turned out so much better than I had hoped.
I certainly wasn't planning on meeting such great people while waiting. In fact, we had a group photo, exchanged contact details and tomorrow we are all meeting again for Christmas lunch!! Again, this is far more than I had hoped for. I was planning on spending Christmas day alone, so I am so happy that it turned out this way.
That being said, I really must get some sleep, so I'll sign off for now. I'll post later about my amazing trip to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel earlier on today. I hope everyone's Christmas has turned out as well as mine has!