Fr. Roderick and I had quite a time the night before last Sunday’s Beatification Mass for Bl. Pope John Paul II.
The above video shows a bit of the atmosphere outside the Dutch Friezen Church, just 20 or so yards outside of St. Peter’s Square, where we decided to camp out for the night. I’m very thankful that we had this opportunity to make this church our base of operations as it gave us a great vantage point from which to watch the preparations being made in the square and the hundreds of thousands of people who were waiting outside in the streets overnight.
At some point in the evening, around 7pm if I recall, the police closed the streets surrounding the Vatican so that security arrangements could be put into place. Ostensibly, no one was to be allowed into the area until the next morning, though like all things in Rome, I’m not sure how stringent these regulations where adhered to.
This made our decision to remain at the church much easier for us and the area that you see in the video above is not as crowded as it could have been. Those present are pretty much just those that were still in the area when the streets were closed.
Later in the evening, the cordoned off areas along the Via de Conciliazione – the long street leading directly from St. Peter’s Square, opened to allow pilgrims to get closer to the square. Because of the various barricades in place, we didn’t really have a good way to photograph the huge crowd waiting, but reports seem to place the number between 1 million and 1.5 million people.
As it was getting close to sunrise, the organizers started to let people through the barricades, a few thousand at a time, to go through security and to find a spot in St. Peter’s Square. I was very impressed with both the way they handled the crowds and how the crowds themselves behaved. Given the long night, chilly conditions, cramped quarters, and the earnest desire for the night to end, most people behaved themselves pretty well.
Here are some additional photos of that night. Hopefully they give you some sense of that evening as everyone waited for the celebration the next morning.