VOLUNTEERS wearing neon yellow vests interlocked their arms and led the crowds, several hundred at a time, slowly toward St Peter’s Square.
The “one-block-at-a-time” strategy was to help avoid a chaotic rush and crush of tens of thousands of people when the square opened at 5.30 am.
An estimated 800,000 people were on the streets of Rome on April 27 to see two popes, Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI, concelebrate the Mass honoring the canonisation of two of their predecessors, Saints John Paul II and John XXIII.
The square was packed to capacity as more than 500,000 people filled the surrounding area; those unable to cross the bridges to Vatican City watched from large screens in several areas throughout the city, including the Roman Forum and Piazza Navona.
The red and white flags of Poland dominated the square and streets leading to the basilica while the gray, overcast sky saw splashes of colour with enormous yellow and white balloons held aloft.
Almost 3000 journalists were officially accredited for the event to provide coverage around the world.
Julia Desilets was one of the people carrying a candle alongside the relic of St John Paul.
Desilets, from western Massachusetts, had been working as a translator in the office promoting his sainthood cause.
She said she was “amazed and extremely honoured” to participate in the canonisation Mass. “It was an appropriate ending, I believe, to my long sojourn here in the Eternal City.”
About 150 cardinals and 700 bishops concelebrated the Mass. About 6,000 priests attended, as well as deacons, to help distribute Communion to as many people as possible.
In order to get into the square on Divine Mercy Sunday, many people stayed up all night or attempted sleep on makeshift beds of flattened cardboard boxes or sleeping mats.
Many found shelter in churches and squares or along the roads leading to the main boulevard leading to St Peter’s Square. A large group of French Scouts set up camp outside the French Embassy in Piazza Farnese and were trying to get some sleep around midnight.
Engineering students from Milan could not believe their good luck in being just several hundred yards from the square.
“We’re here to give thanks and ask for prayers for our studies, our families and our future – to understand who we are,” said Matteo Braida, 24, who came with his friends Marco Camillini, 21, and Luca Costantini, 22.
Two women from Ireland’s County Mayo, Eileen O’ Grady of Louisburgh and Teresa Lawless of Westport, managed to claim a travertine marble bench along the boulevard.
They had been to Rome for at least five other beatification and canonisation ceremonies, and they were prepared for any kind of weather, wearing pastel rain ponchos, gloves and straw sunhats in the dark, damp night.
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
The Catholic Leader acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of this country and especially acknowledge the traditional owners on whose lands we live and work throughout the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.