The day was ideal for an early morning walk along the Tiber to get to St Peter’s Square.
We set off early as we hoped to be able to get to the special celebration for the elderly(!) which was scheduled for 28th September. We were very surprised to be able to get seats in the main area of the Square. By the time Mass started the Square was packed. Apparently the Square holds approximately 80,000 people and it seemed it was full to capacity. Due to the very good organisation ( it reminded me of Graduation Day) it managed to be both intimate and moving, which we all thought was an extraordinary achievement. The excellent audio visual systems helped enormously, and Pope Francis seemed relaxed and engaged with the invited guests, both young and very old, who had come from around the world.
After the ceremony the Pope did a tour of the Square and it seemed he was being teleported by some mystical force. It turned out it was some sort of low-loader vehicle to enable him to get around this vast space quickly. He clearly enjoyed the ride!
Interestingly, in comparison to the access to the Mass the day before, the security was very tight. First, we had to get past the Swiss Guard, then we were scanned by the Carabinieri and finally we had to submit our UK passports to Security before we could be admitted to the inner sanctum of the Vatican. Shortly after we emerged with our Testimoniums ( or is it Testimonia?).
We had one more thing to do, but before that we thought it best to tackle our bikes. The search was on for pipe insulation to protect the frames when they get into the hands of the airline baggage handlers. We separated from Roy and Sarah so that we could explore the nether world of Roman Ferramentas. It proved to be a pilgrimage in itself. Much mirth ensued when we purchased 8 metres of black foam pipe lagging and wrestled it back to our B&B. The bikes were finally taken apart ( at least enough to satisfy the airline regulations), and transferred from our underground parking to our bedroom. The B&B owner doesn’t seem to mind.
On Tuesday we set out to achieve one final act. We had wanted to light a candle in Rome in memory of Katherine but we found ourselves frustrated in St Peter’s Basilica as all the “candles” are electric. We also found that the church, whilst culturally and artistically stunning, felt more like a museum or art gallery than a place of reflection. The same applied to our second choice, the ancient pilgrim church of St John Lateran which I had naively thought would be a place of great spiritual atmosphere given its status as the first public place of worship in Christendom. Again, it is visually stunning but peace and solitude were at a premium. After much searching we found what we were seeking in Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale. It seemed appropriate that it should be in a church consecrated to Scotland’s patron saint that we could undertake our small act of commemoration.
For the rest of our time in Rome we have done what most visitors do and tomorrow we return to Scotland. We feel immensely privileged to have had the opportunity to undertake this journey and to share it with you all. As we have said before we are very grateful for all your support, encouragement and, above all, generosity in supporting the Strathcarron Hospice.