By Terry Wilson
For The Catholic Messenger
ROME — We began the day with a 4 a.m. wake-up call and were loaded on the bus and headed to St. Peter’s Square by 5 a.m., more than five hours before the canonization service for Mother Teresa was scheduled to begin.
As our bus neared Vatican City, there were people everywhere. Buses usually park underground there, but the lot was closed due to security and the volume of traffic. We were dropped off a few blocks outside Vatican City. Enza Volpe, our Italian-born tour manager, made things so much easier.
We were provided small fold-up chairs, and with Enza leading the way, we headed toward St. Peter’s Square. After a short walk, we found the streets already blocked with people waiting. The line continued to build behind us, and from the side streets intersecting ours.
The wait in line was an international experience. Waiting along with the rest of us were priests and nuns from many different countries and orders. It would seem that with all of us there to celebrate someone like Mother Teresa, the wait would have been an orderly social exchange. It was just the opposite. The longer we waited, the more people tried to reposition themselves for the best spot, and the pushing and shouting began to escalate. Finally the first of two security checkpoints was opened, and the line began to move.
We had arranged to gather at a meeting place after the service, so getting separated wouldn’t be a concern. Once the mass of people began pushing us through the security funnel, our group was indeed separated, but we all managed to gather in small groups.
Once through the second security check, we entered St. Peter’s Square. The sight was breathtaking, with the basilica directly in front of us and with everything now focused on the stage and altar that had been placed on the stairway leading into the church. The view from where we stood was good enough that we decided to stay there rather than moving back into the crowd closer to the front.
We moved to a wooden railing that had been installed to created a corridor between us and the next section and staked our turf.
They began playing music from the stage, and then about 45 minutes before the service started, reciting the rosary. A peace began to come over the crowd, and listening to the rosary in many different languages, recited in unison by thousands of people, was truly beautiful.
Soon Pope Francis was center stage, and the service began. We were all given a 112-page soft- cover book with the order of the service, but since neither the books nor the service were in English, it was hard to follow what was happening.
But there was no doubt what was going on when Cardinal Angelo Amoto began speaking to the pope. Before Pope Francis could finish his reply, the crowd broke out in excited applause.
The feeling of being present for such a historic moment is hard to explain. I was interviewed by a reporter while standing in the crowd. My answer to her was how personal Mother Teresa’s sainthood is to each of us. This is someone from our time, that we watched, knew and grew to love for all she did for others.
As the service came to a conclusion, anticipation began to build. Would Pope Francis take his customary ride out into the crowd, standing in the popemobile? We watched the Swiss Guard and the other security officers begin to survey our area of the crowd closely. We then realized the railing we had decided to stand next to was creating the corridor for the popemobile’s route. Soon he entered the vehicle, the crowd cheered, and out he went to the people. He did indeed pass directly in front of us!
In many ways, attending the canonization was hot, uncomfortable and unpleasant. But not if you compare it to the trials Mother Teresa suffered in her lifetime. It was an amazing experience to see over 100,000 people from all over the world gathered to honor the faith and sainthood of Mother Teresa.
(Terry Wilson is a member of the board of directors of The Catholic Messenger.)