Over at his blog, Deacon Bill Ditewig describes the process that unfolded in the wee hours of Sunday morning. It started by arriving at the Lateran, where priests and deacons piled into big buses that took them to various churches, which were more or less the “staging areas” for the big event.
We were then escorted “a piedi” (by foot) around St. Peter’s and the Via della Conciliazione. And then I saw a remarkable sight: As we approached the Ancora Bookstore (on the right) and the Vatican Press Office (on the left), we saw security people at barricades. Beyond them, stretching across the entire street and extending down all the way to the Tiber, was a sea of people. I wish I’d had a camera to record the images. Rather eearily, they were relatively quiet, standing there. In the darkness, it was more than a little surreal! Down the center was a narrow walkway kept open by metal barricades, and we were escorted down this path. It was also being used by the emergency services people to help people who had collapsed or were in need of assistance. Some groups sang softly.
We quickly made our way to Santa Maria in Traspontina, but then there was a snag. There was no way to get from the center of the street into the church! After about a half hour of phone calls, working the walkie-talkies, lots of gestures and shouting, a pathway was negotiated and we got into the church before the throng filled up again.
6:00 AM: In the quiet, darkened church we found places to sit and get comfortable. The photo to the left was obviously taken during daylight and without the crowds in front of it! All of us priests and deacons had little bags with us carrying our albs and stoles, so we settled in quietly and prayed for the safety of those outside. We were welcomed by the pastor of the church and invited to make ourselves comfortable.7:30 AM: We began Morning Prayer together, led by the pastor and a (transitional) deacon.
8:00 AM: We began the celebration of Mass in the church. Long tables were arranged behind the altar itself, and there were literally dozens of ciboria filled with hosts arranged there. During our Mass, all of these were consecrated and would be the Hosts we would distribute later to the people outside gathered for the Mass of Canonization. It was a beautifully simple Mass. No musicians except for one of the deacons who served as cantor to get us going. We sang a cappella and kept thinking and praying for the pilgrims outside. It was like we were in a bubble of prayer.
10:00 AM: The Mass begins as the Pope enters. Here we go. Our schedule is like this. After the pope’s homily is completed, we are invited to vest. We quickly put on our albs and stoles and form two lines leading into the sanctuary. We each take a ciborium and the line forms heading to the front doors of the church. As soon as the Lord’s Prayer begins at St. Peter’s, they open the doors of Santa Maria, and out we go, two by two. We move to the central path I mentioned before, and turn immediately to the left, AWAY from St. Peter’s and toward the Tiber. Every ten meters or so, one of us “drops out” of line and stands in front of the crowd. I’m toward the end of the line, so I wind up where I’d hoped to be all along — down near the Tiber. I notice something I hadn’t before: the cross street where I am standing, getting ready to distribute Communion, is named after St. John XXIII. Those who know of my love for St. John will realize just how special this location was!
I’ve marked my location on the map…You can see St. Peter’s on the left, and I was standing as indicated by the yellow arrow on the right.
Read it all. Fascinating stuff.