During the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school, I had the good fortune of hearing Pope John Paul II speak in Rome, Italy. I was sent with a group of students to witness the beatification of our school's namesake, Father Chaminade. My dad, an Italian Catholic, had always loved John Paul, so I grew up hearing stories about him. I was excited to see the man in action, finally. When we got there, the scene was beyond impressive: St. Peter's Square was a sea of hundreds of thousands of people, and it seemed as though every nationality was represented. There were metal detectors, gelato carts, and peddlers selling knickknacks imprinted with the pope's face. In all the excitement, I knocked over two little Italian ladies as I ran to save seats in the seventh row (!!!).* When he came out on stage, the crowd undulated with cheers and applause. The respect and sheer adulation he commanded was the first I had seen of its kind. If I saw one person cry, I saw a hundred. It was almost like a rock concert, expect instead of leather, metal-studded wristbands and Motley Crue haircuts, people were doused in crosses and swung their rosaries to chants of "Pape! Pape!" From what I can remember of the ceremony, John Paul spoke something like seven different languages, and the effects of his Parkinson's were prominently on display. But he persevered for more than an hour, and then — then — came his ride on the popemobile! He rode around, waving to his legions, in a gold chair on the back of a mini, truck-like contraption. People threw out flowers and waved flags of their countries of origin. We were able to snap a couple close-up shots, and he blessed all our souvenirs.**
Starting today, Pope Benedict XVI is set to visit the United States for six days, stopping in both Washington, DC and New York City. And I gotta say, the new popemobile is sick*** — it's been upgraded from that of something resembling a golf cart to a Mercedes Benz, literally.
* Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do, right? I mean, how many times do you get to see the pope in Rome? And what good is it if he looks like an ant in all your pictures?
** Which, really, is the most important thing.
*** Again, that's a good thing, Mom.