Saturday, December 25, 2010

Exquisite Europe * Christmas At the Vatican City, Italy (December 2010)

I've finally had the opportunity to visit this wonderful country called Italy, a very popular country that I got to know and love without even visiting the place, thanks to its heavenly food and wine being served around the world, its famous sights and attractions regularly featured in movies, its brand name clothes, shoes and bags that every woman wants, and of course, its flair for romance. Italy is what I imagined it to be, and more!

And Rome, home of the Vatican City, the smallest independent state in the world.  This was our first stop in Rome.  Being a Catholic, this is one of the must experience sights, even more important than Fatima in Portugal and Lourdes in France, for which I've been blessed to have visited.  It was hard to comprehend the reality of it all as I still can't believe that I am seeing it with my own eyes.  I see the papal blessing on global TV year after year, the Pope on the balcony of the magnificent St. Peter's Basilica giving his blessing in different languages, but today, Christmas Day 2010, we are down by the square seeing the balcony with our bare eyes, and seeing the pope in person.  I feel very very blessed.  We arrived just minutes before the blessing, the rain was still coming and we inched our way through and found a good spot by the middle of the square, the crowd was large but there were spaces in between.  Some umbrellas were up as it was still drizzling.  I readied my binoculars and saw a photographer in the corner of the balcony preparing to cover the blessing that will be shown in the screens displayed around the square as well as for global TV.  Urbi et Orbi - for the city and for the world.  As we were waiting, we could see the many people around, both tourists and locals alike, which didn't seem to matter, cause all of us were here for a reason.  We also saw a group of young men all dressed up in black coats at the square who looked the most handsome, and our hearts melted as we realized that they are students of the priesthood. I scanned my binoculars once again on the balcony, and suddenly with no special announcement, I saw a small figure appear, and got really excited as I realized it was the pope.  Yey!  The crowd was silent in awe then you can hear the buzz slightly getting louder and finally, an applause.  The pope waved his hands then sat down to start his blessing.  It was surreal.  I still can't believe I'm standing right here.  We can't help get a bit distracted as he spoke in Italian which we did not understand, and our focus turned to the crowd around us as we tried to comprehend the enormity of this event realizing that this huge crowd is just a tiny speck in the size of the world's population listening to the pope's message at this very moment.  He then started with his blessings in all languages, including Tagalog, for which we cheered on.

After the blessing, soon after the church has been cleared, we were able to get on the queue to enter St. Peter's Basilica, for which, the pope just conducted mass hours ago.  It was a beautiful church, and in it was the famous Pieta, where the Mother Mary was carrying the lifeless Jesus.  We couldn't immediately notice of size of the church until we learned that the center aisle was 180+ meters long, making it the largest church in the world.  The dome was also around 45 meters wide, which we could not immediately notice as well, until we saw a person walking on the sides of the dome.  It was humongous yet cozy.

What a way to celebrate Christmas by being in the center of our Catholic leadership.  It reminds us of the enormity of the Catholic faith and how we, as individuals lie in the midst of all this.  It also reminds us how real and how accessible our faith is, especially when we start to look deeply into our hearts or even when we question it or fall in the glimpses of doubt which is inherent in our human nature.

And as our parish church's reflection for the day writes:

It reminds us to listen carefully to the sound of our longing, and ponder what we have been wanting all along, what our hearts have been truly longing for all these years. If Heaven were to ask us tonight what our lifelong wishes are, what would these be? Whisper a prayer to the Child, tell him what we most desire tonight. What is our lifelong wish?  It's not about Christmas trees, or shopping for Christmas gifts, nor is it about Christmas dinners nor Christmas cards.

Perhaps tonight our only lifelong wish is to love and be loved. If Heaven could grant our wish, perhaps we only ask to be more patient, more kind, more grateful. Perhaps tonight we long to begin forgiving or to be forgiven. Perhaps we yearn to be less distant, more loving with those who are near to us. Perhaps our only want tonight is for our children to remember us, to visit us. To be close, to be family again. Perhaps as the song goes, we only want her or him our beloved to be home for Christmas. Perhaps we are yearning tonight to have the strength to let go, to be faithful, to be free. Maybe tonight, we only want to understand the one who has hurt us. Perhaps our heart's desire is to be less jealous or envious or anxious. If only perhaps we could be less afraid or insecure; if only we could find rest for our wearied lives. Perhaps we have been wanting to say the words "I love you" but we cannot and can only mean the love indirectly. Tonight perhaps we only want to trust that God is still kind and that life is still good. Perhaps we wish for once we could refrain from the words and silences that so readily tear our lives apart. Perhaps our only longing now is to be able to pick up the broken pieces of our life and go on believing that even shards and splinters are never wasted. Perhaps tonight we only want to be quiet and alone, to allow time to heal our heart. Perhaps tonight our only wish is to not be alone, to have a friend, to be a friend, or for love to never end...

Christmas longing is something that we allow to grow on us. Only after many Christmases do we discover that the longing just as much abides in God as it does in us. It is not only we who long for the wholeness of Paradise again.

Thank you God for being there.  Thank You for this once in a lifetime opportunity for us to experience what Christmas really means and to remind us of what really matters in life.  Even if mom and dad are not around, You have kept our family together on this Christmas Day.

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