I took the afternoon off of work at got to CUA around 1:30. It was already abuzz with activity everywhere, and as I sat at the Metro station waiting for KMac to arrive I was even more surprised when one train pulled up and it was FULL of music playing, singing, nuns! I am still wishing that I were a much quicker draw on my camera so I could have gotten a shot of it. Instead, I stood there in complete awe watching hundreds of really young nuns (the ones in grey and blue habits) walk by. I don't think I'd ever seen so many in one place, and I'm just hoping I didn't look too stupid staring at them with my jaw on the floor. Maybe they're used it, right?
I couldn't have been happier that the weather was perfect, and the Shrine is the perfect backdrop for the crystalline blue skies that we had that day. The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is one of the 10 largest Churches in the world, and stands taller than the statue of liberty. The interior church can sit 6,000 pilgrims and worshipers comfortably, but Andrea could tell you a story of seeing closer to 10,000 people there for Good Friday a few years ago. It was about 75 degrees in the Sun, and as soon as KMac and I secured our piece of grass closest to the fence, we proceeded to sun ourselves for a while. We were in for a LOOOOOONG wait for the Holy Father's arrival, and we needed to save our energy, and enjoy a perfect spring day, with a gorgeous backdrop to share with other excited visitors.
This is a Franciscan, and I thought it was funny to take his picture while he was taking a picture, too.Once the buses and vans started rolling in filled with Bishops (Magenta) and Cardinals (Red), the crowd was quickly on its feet. We tried to be as polite as possible, while steadily inching and nudging our way closer and closer to the barrier fence. With all of those bodies so close together, people started getting extremely hot in the sun, that was no shining directly on us. KMac and I struck gold when one of them started feeling slightly faint and sick to her stomach. When she moved back 20 feet where there was more space, we slid into position for a prime view of the Pontiff's arrival. You may also be wondering who the guy in the purple garments is: That is the Ukrainian Catholic Bishop.
All in all, there were about 1500 Bishops to meet with the Holy Father that night. They were having a private meeting with him, and as it was also his 81st birthday that day, they also presented him with a beautiful white cake, and serenaded him with a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" later that evening.
They all filed in and then the scene was empty once more, until there was only one remaining (with a Secret Service Agent, of course). That last man standing there is Monsignor Rossi, the Rector of the National Shrine, waiting to welcome the Pontiff to his church.
Then, there were crazy screams off around the corner, and we caught the first glimpse of the Popemobile. Everyone was cheering and screaming as he slowly rolled up to the entrance of the Shrine.
When he got out, we had our first chance to see his red shoes as he blessed us all before heading in. There was lots of speculation last week as to whether or not the Pope wears Prada. I assure you, he does not. In fact, the Pontiff's shoes are hand crafted Italian shoes that serve a symbol of his time as a Cardinal (hence, the red), as well as a fashion statement that demonstrates his continuity with the history and symbols of the Universal Church.
Then, as fast as he was there, he was gone again. As he turned to walk up the steps, we all sang Happy Birthday to him. When he reached the top, he turned, waved, and was gone again.
I think that the Holy Father's visit was a very productive one, as well as surprising for many US Catholics. He proved himself to be much more compassionate and approachable than many believed him to be. I am incredibly thankful that I was able to have the opportunity to see him up close and with my own eyes. I regret that I was never able to see JPII either time that I was in Rome years ago. The energy surrounding the Holy Father is truly inspiring, and it was quite a blessing that I had the chance to see him.
Special Thanks to KMac who gave me the ticket to the Pope's visit, as well as for use of a two of her pictures that I included here.