I’ve been receiving emails from people telling their stories of being in Rome this week. Most are very moving. I’m going to begin posting them here for you. This first one is a Father Peter Mitchell.
It is impossible to describe the conditions in this city. As I write, helicopters are hovering overhead, traffic is backed up down the entire Corso Vittorio Emmanuele leading through the heart of the city towards the Vatican, and it is said that up to 600,000 people are in line to view the body of John Paul II, with well over a million having already viewed it. I just returned from the Via della Conciliazione, which runs from St. Peter’s Square to the Tiber, and witnessed the unbelievable sight of three different lines converging, each one containing tens of thousands of people. Two of the lines go over the bridge, across the river, and then along the banks of the Tiber as far as the eye can see. Water bottles are stacked up by the side of the road by the thousands and were being distributed in a very disorganized way, in the hot afternoon sun. The line moves in stages and is now said to be over twelve hours long. All this to walk past the Holy Father’s body for a few seconds at the most. I was in the basilica at noon today for a memorial Mass offered for the Pope and was deeply moved by the devotion and prayerfulness of the pilgrims who were coming into the church. Their exhaustion was also evident.as I prayed at the side altar of St. Gregory the Great, dozens of people came and collapsed on the steps near the altar after hours in the line.