National Catholic Reporter:

What did they come to see?
By Rita Larivee,  SSA

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These photographs, taken over the course of one day, attempt to capture the scene at Vatican City as Catholics throughout the world discern the meaning of these events. Between now and the election of the next pope, National Catholic Reporter will provide additional photographs as they become available.

From one of the many hills within Rome, the dome of the Basilica of Saint Peter's can be seen overlooking the city.  As one approaches the Vatican, the symbol emerges quickly, capturing the imagination of those traveling from different parts of the world.
Tributes to John Paul II appear everywhere thanking the pontiff for his life and his love of people. 

As one walks through the city, posters appear outside buildings, inside stores, at bus stops, and under apartment windows.
And for those making a pilgrimage to the city, the signs begin to tell a story of  great meaning and importance for those who knew this man. But it is a story that goes far beyond John Paul II, reaching to every corner of the earth and, for this moment, unites its 1 billion members regardless of theological or political inclinations.  It is a story of hope and a reminder of what could be for the world, its people and all of creation.
It is a time of remembrance of not only John Paul II, but of everything his office represents for a religious tradition that has begun its third millennium within the world. It is a moment of silence.  Crowds stand in reverence as they gather around the walls of Vatican City.  There are no theological debates, there are no groups speaking their personal desires or individual longings.  It is a time of unity for all present inside and outside the perimeter of Saint Peter's.  Many stand, others sit, but all are members of one group that has come to see for themselves the meaning of these days.
Banners hang from windows, most hand made and many hand signed by those wishing to make their gratitude known.
Posters are carried and raised for others to see and the affection for John Paul II and what he represented for so many throughout the world is self-evident.
Shrines have been decorated with flowers, cards, letters, candles and other forms of memorabilia. Organizations have left hats, flags, and other articles of identity to pay their respects to this moment.
Flyers too have been distributed as another way of saying goodbye.
The story being told, however, is complex and often lost within the cultural realities moving up against its wall both physically and metaphorically.  In contrast to the image of Saint Peter's dome seen from a quiet hillside, stand many billboards and images of a culture that is far different from those who first told the story.
If  little else, Vatican City cannot escape the culture that is literally at its doorway. The question facing the membership is how it will answer the knocking at its door.  Though few words are said, hope is in the eyes of those who have come see, as well as anxious expectation.  The silence of this moment cannot be viewed as emptiness or lack of understanding, but rather the expressions on peoples faces acknowledge the challenges facing the church today.  But similar to a great symphony whose notes are often the focus of attention, the silence between the notes is equally important.  Something is happening which cannot yet be articulated, but the events of these days are probably more than an intermission between pontificates.



Life goes on because it must.  But these days of farewell may, in fact, be a moment of far greater significance that is yet to be understood.
One only need view the scene that has emerged outside Castel Saint'Angelo during these days to see a sign of the times.  Satellite dishes fill the space that is usually empty. It is a far cry from the days when the disciples walked the road to Emmaus asking if they had heard the news.
The crowd gathers quietly around the semicircular colonnades partly enclosing Piazza San Pietro.  Entrance is not allowed onto the piazza except by way of waiting in line for those wishing to view the body of John Paul II.
Preparations have been made for the thousands expected to arrive.  The orderliness and cleanliness of the surroundings is a tribute to the city of Rome and its hospitality to the travelers who have come.
NOTE:  This photograph presentation has been divided into multiple parts.  Click on the link to the right for more.
For more photographs, click here.
Copyrighted 2005 The National Catholic Reporter Publ. Co.
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