White Night of Prayer

Here’s AP’s description of the all-night vigil before John Paul II’s beatification ceremony. I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m getting goose pimples, along with a nagging case of Scalia envy:

ROME – Thousands of young people flooded an ancient Roman field Saturday for an all-night prayer vigil honoring Pope John Paul II on the eve of his beatification, remembering his teachings, travels and his own suffering.

Pilgrims waving flags from Poland, Spain Germany and Brazil filled the Circus Maximus, which twinkled with the light of thousands of candles as choirs from John Paul’s native Poland, the Philippines and Italy sang. They listened as a French nun who suffered from Parkinson’s recounted how she was cured after praying to John Paul, who also battled the same disease…

The crowd on the Circus Maximus had the feel of a World Youth Day, the once-ever-three-year event John Paul launched to energize young Catholics that became a hallmark of his pontificate. Groups of young people danced and sang, many carrying backpacks and sleeping bags in preparation for a night to be spent outdoors.

“It’s true that nowadays most of the young don’t care about religion, but John Paul showed us love, and love is all we need,” said Matea Sarlija, a 21-year-old Croat who spent 10 hours on a bus to arrive in Rome for the vigil.

As Elizabeth noted on Facebook, Rome is Poland, at least for the weekend:

Rome itself seemed invaded by Poles overjoyed that their native son was being honored. Special trains, planes and buses were shuttling Poles in for the beatification, which is drawing some 16 heads of state and five members of European royal houses.

“I’m here because I think it’s my duty, a duty for all the society of my country, to show what a big big man John Paul was,” said Stanislaw Roguski, a pilgrim from Warsaw who arrived in Rome by bus on Saturday afternoon.

In Krakow, where John Paul was archbishop, two TV screens at two different sites are to broadcast the beatification ceremony Sunday from Rome. Houses were decorated with Poland’s white-and-red flags and the Vatican’s white-and-yellow colors.

The vigil featured televised hookups from five Marian shrines in Krakow, Mexico, Tanzania, Portugal and Lebanon, where the faithful were also celebrating.

No one has said so, but I’m willing to bet this is one of those moments that finds complete strangers treating one another with a courtesy so delicate as to verge on tenderness. It hardly needs saying that religion can get people hacking at each other’s throats, but when it does the opposite — when it really brings people together — it can make a memory that lasts forever.

I had an experience like that during my first Holy Thursday as a fully functioning Catholic. After the foot-washing and the Mass ended, the priest carried the Blessed Sacrament from the main chapel, acros the courtyard to the old church. The old church is, in fact, the oldest Catholic Church in the metro Phoenix area: red brick with arched, gothic-style windows and a rose window depicting a lamb in stained glass. Unfortunately, it’s too tiny to accommodate most Holy Week crowds.

Stepping inside, we found the place completely black, save for flickers from candles mounted in their stands at the ends of their pews. In the loft, the choir was singing. Some people sang along as the priest set the Sacarment on the altar; since I couldn’t see my music sheet, I had to zip up until the choir switched to a song I knew.

The Host was in one of those jars — you’ll forgive me for not knowing the technical term — not in a monstrance. There was something maddening about not being able to see it. Deciding that feeling its presence, somehow, would be the next best thing, I began creeping closer. Simply marching up the aisle would have felt uncouth under the circumstances; instead, I tiptoed forward, pausing to rest in one pew for a minute, then another. Anyone who noticed might have made me for a pickpocket.

By the time I gained the front row, my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and I saw for the first time that people were prostrating themselves before the jar — flat-out on the hardwood floors. I’d seen videos of priests doing this during their ordination rites, but I’d never realized that the posture held any other place in Catholic devotion. Apparently loath to hog the space closest to the Body, each adorer spent only a couple of minutes on his face before shuffling back whence he came.

Presently, one of the two prostrate figures stood up and slumped onto my pew, just a few feet away from me. When his face passed through the candlelight, I saw he was none other than our pastor. He was a very passionate guy, which is to say he was often ornery, which is to say that he and I were a lot alike. I’d always sensed he saw the similarity, too. Though linked by a faint but constant current of mutual sympathy, we couldn’t stand to be around each other for more than a few minutes at a time. In that sense, we had a truly familial relationship.

Perhaps as much to give him his space as for any other reason, I took his place on the floor. It was cool and — amazingly –clean; hard but smooth. It seemed an fitting collection of impressions to have so close to the Real Presence. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” the Good Book says. I did. And He did. But not for too long. When I felt my eyes drooping, I pulled myself to my feet and sat back down.

As I did, I exchanged looks with my pastor. For the first time since I’d met him, he looked relaxed. He wore a strange, impish smile. To this day, I can’t guess what it meant or what he was thinking, but I believe I smiled back. For the next three or four minutes, we sat side-by-side in silence. Then, not wanting to ruin what felt like a moment of perfect Christian fellowship, I stood up, bowed toward the Host, and walked quietly outside for a smoke.

Here’s some video coverage. The really good stuff hasn’t found its way onto YouTube, but I’ll add on as it does:

— M.L., Servum Anchoress Dei

First images of John Paul being removed from the grottoes (Latin singing):

John Paul II’s tapestry set for unveiling:

Samples of John Paul’s blood to be honored:

A montage, submitted by Anna. Singing in Eyetalian:

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!