The other day, a Vatican official asked when the Australian invasion of Rome was beginning. Maybe he was planning on clearing out before the blessed event. I could only answer that I knew when some of the sisters, the bishops and the media were arriving, but, that I couldn’t account for the 7900 or so others.
We Aussies are pretty staid folk – friendly, and open, but not known for being among the most expressive of cultures. We don’t kiss on both cheeks like Latinos. Men don’t usually hug each other, and we do like our personal space. However, when in large groups, we do have a tendency to change.
I have my ears peeled, waiting for the familiar sounds of “AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE, OY OY OY” to ring through St Peter’s square in celebration of our pride in our Aussie girl, Mary Mack.
I knew the Aussies couldn’t be far away, and short of staging an apparition of Mary Mack so that I would have some authentic photos for Cathnews, I decided I needed to get cracking and find some roos.
I found my first group of Aussies in a little Trattoria near the Vatican. Initially, I was attracted by the sophisticated camera equipment, and my journalist friend and I went over to find out what they were up to. These camera-laden folk were five journalists from Channel Nine whose unmistakable accents gave them away. When we approached them to take their photo, we discovered we were facing a similar problem. They were there to cover the canonisation and couldn’t find any Aussie pilgrims.
Nonetheless some have been here over a week. The word on the street is that Sophie Delezio and her family are here, a young girl whose family and friends prayed to Mary MacKillop after she suffered third degree burns to 85 percent of her body, and was then hit by a car just a few years later. Her survival was considered by many to be a miracle that could be attributed to the intervention of Mary MacKillop.
Kathleen Evans, whose remarkable recovery from a brain tumour saw the recognition by the Vatican of Mary’s second miracle will meet the Pope during the canonisation festivities. This woman has spent the last 20 years since she was healed of this inoperable cancer working with cancer patients.
Aussies already have Mary MacKillop canonised, but things take a little longer in Rome, and that’s okay, because they don’t know her like maybe we do. Anyone who has attended Catholic schools in the last 50 years would at least have heard her name – and those of all religions and none recognise her unusually special example, even if they don’t know much about her.
Anyway – back to the pilgrim search! My inquiries took me to St Peter’s square, and I searched around for flags, broad accents, akubra hats….I didn’t look for blue singlets or stubbies because it’s unlikely that even an Aussie would be allowed to enter the Vatican wearing those, stylish as they are.
The square was buzzing today, mostly with Europeans – Germans and Spaniards; Poles and Italians. It was raining most of the day, but that didn’t deter people from lining up from a kilometre away to see the Vatican museum. The spectacle of hundreds of different-coloured umbrellas bobbing up and down as they edged toward the entrance was a sight to be seen. However it’s best not to look for too long and to be careful where you walk lest you ruin someone’s magnificent once-in-a-lifetime photo and endure their wrath. Even pilgrims have their grumpy days, and I don’t exclude myself.
Preparations for Sunday’s canonisation ceremony are underway, and thousands upon thousands of plastic chairs and wooden barricades are being piled up in the square. Well, actually, maybe St Peter’s square should be called a circle, but let’s leave that discussion for another time.…
The chairs are for those lucky enough to get a seat on Sunday. There will be four other saints canonized on the same day and three of them are from Europe, so it’s unlikely.
Large screens will be broadcasting the event, but so too will some of our own Aussies, who will film the canonisation as a live webcast featuring Sydney Archdiocese’s Father Mark Podesta who lives in Rome, Communications Director Katrina Lee and Sister Giovanni Farquer RSJ.
In the hope of finding pilgrims inside the Basilica, I jumped in a queue which in the summer can stretch for kilometres and climbed to the top of St Peter’s Basilica. As I listened to the languages around me, I was impressed at the reach of this place. Catholics and non-Catholics, people from all over all found something beautiful – a bird’s eye view of Rome or a bit of exercise climbing the 320 steps. I didn’t find any pilgrims, but the view was breathtaking.
Beth Doherty is media officer for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
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