I recently interviewed Bishop Matthew Clark for an article about Pope John Paul II’s beatification next week. As I sat in the bishop’s office and listened to him describe the scene in St. Peter’s Square the night John Paul II was elected, I pictured the square in my mind and felt a pang of longing, and perhaps even homesickness.
I first visited St. Peter’s Square last September, when my husband, Mike, and I traveled to Rome for a seminar for journalists who cover the Catholic Church. I’d seen many photographs of the square, yet still was completely unprepared for the flood of emotions that washed over me when I walked between those imposing columns and stepped into the square.
I couldn’t believe I was actually standing in the place where the Holy Father lives and his predecessor, St. Peter, was laid to rest. A colleague in the Catholic press jokingly referred to Vatican City as "the home office," but as I gazed around the square I began to understand that it truly is a spiritual home for many Catholics.
We spent eight days in Rome and never tired of stopping in St. Peter’s Square. We especially loved lingering there in the evenings and basking in its quiet, reverent beauty.
I assumed the awe of the square must wear off eventually, but recently I found a quote from Cardinal Christoph Schonborn that suggests otherwise. In his 2004 book All the Pope’s Men, John L. Allen Jr. recalls a conversation in which the cardinal tried to describe his feelings in the square.
"It’s an awesome sensation, standing in the space that has been the focus of a tradition that goes back to Christ himself, and to the prince of the apostles. This is Peter’s house," Cardinal Schonborn told Allen.
I completely understand.