Postscript 3: last day in Rome
The Testimonium again! Have you ever been frustrated by bureaucracy? Well, the Vatican has plenty of it, and lots to spare! I arrived at St Peter’s at 9am, made my way to the pilgrim office, and Don Bruno Vercesi took me (along with Mario, a Fr Canadian pilgrim) to an inner office, questioned us about our journeys, filled in a big book with our details (I am pilgrim no. 2006 to be registered), got us to write summaries of our experiences, then asked us to return at 11.15am. We did, only to be joined by 5 Italians and three young Germans, then we were given a lecture tour of parts of the crypt that tourists don’t get to see, followed by a short service in an Irish chapel……………. At 12.30 we came out brandishing our testimonia! Three and a half hours later! In ten years time, what if a hundred pilgrims turn up daily at the office? What then?
The long wait gave Mario and me the opportunity to climb the 500+ steps to the top of the cupola of the Basilica, and admire the exquisite symmetry of the entire Vatican. The climb is arduous but worth it (or you can pay a few euros more and take a lift part-way). The Vatican was built to demonstrate the power of the church, at a time when popes enjoyed extensive political, as well as religious, influence. That demonstration of power still attracts millions of visitors every year.
Curiously, during the concluding service of prayers and readings, two of the German lads confessed they weren’t Christians. Well, that got Don Bruno’s missionary spirit into overdrive, but I could see that his ministrations were falling on deaf ears, but the lads smiled generously and thanked him for his advice.
Lunch with the Marists. My brother, Gerard, is a Marist in the UK, so he provided me with an introduction and I was kindly invited to lunch at their General Curia by their Fr General, John Hannon. Having been held up by the bureaucracy that morning, I had to walk smartly to an unfamiliar part of the city, and find where the house was. Lunch was excellent, and it gave me the opportunity to meet members of the order from other parts of the world.
many of the well-known sights on this my last day. Rome at any time of the year is busy with tourists, but late
groups, and this is particularly pleasant to other passers-by who don’t want to hear their commentaries.
But amidst all this beauty and affluence, the downtrodden will make their way and hope to feed off the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. Though there is a great deal of well-rehearsed drama in the way the poor beg, it is not easy to pass them by and ignore them.
Homeward bound. Tomorrow I have to admit to myself that the journey is really over when I climb on the Ryanair flight back to Stansted. The bike is boxed up in a fashion, more to protect other people’s luggage than to protect the bike. And where is the sense in this? My ticket cost me 9 euros, and the bike has cost 40 euros. The clear message is that people are discountable, but sports equipment isn’t.
See you up the road in the UK!!