Bison Abroad | When in Rome, See the Pope

A common saying for visitors to Rome, Italy is: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” During my three, short days in Rome, I tried to do just that.


I ate pasta and pizza, I took the metro and I made my tourist rounds. I toured the Colosseum, I threw a coin into the Trevi Fountain and enjoyed gelato in one of the many plazas. But would a visit to Rome really be complete without a visit to the Vatican?

Growing up Catholic, Vatican City has always been awe-inspiring. Between its beauty and its religious ties, the Vatican truly is a place one should visit while in Rome, Catholic or not.

Host to countless important events in the Catholic Church, history is everywhere at the Vatican. Any history buff could spend days there. Of course my three days in Rome weren’t enough to fully experience Vatican City, but I sure tried my best.

When planning my stop in Rome several months prior to my visit, I was so excited that I’d be in Rome on a Sunday to attend mass. My sister, however, reminded me that there are masses every day at the Vatican. Of course I knew there would be masses every day at the Vatican, but to be at the Sunday service for mass with Pope Francis? Now that was something special.

To obtain entrance to the Sunday mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, you must request a (free) ticket from the Swiss Guards.

Little did I know the mass I hoped to get a ticket for was the same mass in which Mother Teresa of Calcutta was going to be canonized. I was a little ashamed that it didn’t occur to me beforehand, but it was an awesome surprise.

Growing up I learned about Mother Teresa numerous times in my religion classes, and knowing that I had the opportunity to be a part of her canonization mass was incredible.

After an exciting visit to the Vatican to get a ticket and a short night of sleep, it was finally Sunday morning. The mass wasn’t until 10:00 a.m., but I was at the metro station by 7:00 a.m. sharp.

I, however, was not alone. There were priests, nuns and many other laypeople at the station as well. We crowded onto the train, with not an open seat to be found.

Before I knew it I was through security and right in the middle of St. Peter’s Square. Because the mass was such a big event, the service was held outside. In the middle of the square. For two hours I waited with thousands of others who had traveled from all parts of the world.

There was a buzz of excitement in the air because the famed Mother Teresa was hours away from officially becoming a canonized saint. There were smiles everywhere. There was singing. There was prayer. Twenty minutes before the start of the mass we all prayed the rosary, and it was incredible.

The sky was blue, the sun was shining and the music began. With a portrait of Mother Teresa hanging for all to see, Pope Francis began the mass. According to news sources, there were about 120,000 people from all over the world in attendance. Imagine three full Target Fields.

That’s roughly how many people were gathered in St. Peter’s Square. It was truly inspiring to see so many people come together to celebrate the impact Mother Teresa had on the world.

Most of the mass was in Latin, but it didn’t matter. In the Catholic Church, the mass is the same regardless of which language it is said in. But when I got lost, which happened occasionally, all was good because volunteers passed out booklets with the translations.

Once the mass had ended, excitement was still in the air. To celebrate that Mother Teresa was officially a saint, Pope Francis made his rounds on the Popemobile. Everyone crowded close to the barriers that marked the route the Pope would drive by. As he passed by, a sea of hands were waving excitedly to him. It was awesome.

Being part of a celebration filled with so much joy was truly inspirational.

Mother Teresa once said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”

As I continue my travels, a smile will be something I never forget to bring with me.

I invite you, too, to take Mother Teresa’s advice and make your mark on the world, one smile at a time.

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