Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tips for getting tickets at the Vatican

When we first started planning this trip, my mom had one request: to see the Pope.  I mostly just laughed at her after reading in my trusty guidebooks that this Pope no longer holds personal audiences and just thinking about how overwhelming it would be to try to get tickets to events like a mass at Christmas.  But, little things kept happening that pushed us in the right direction: I read in Rick Steve's to try to get tickets to the Scavi tours (but don't count on it), and my parents heard from some priests at an event that you could get tickets to midnight mass at Christmas.

First: the Scavi tours.  Basically, in order to request tickets, you have to email your information to the "Scavi" (as we called whoever was answering our emails).  Rick Steves said that no answer is common and it means that you do not have tickets, so I was not expecting much from the Scavi.  However, soon after I emailed them, I received an email back confirming our reservation...for 9 a.m. the day we arrived in Rome...and our plane was scheduled to get into the airport at 8:55 a.m.  I was so sad, but decided to keep emailing the Scavi to try to find a different day/time.  Nope...everything was full.  After (literally) seven or so emails back and forth, I just gave up.  I even tried having David email him with absolutely no luck.

A few days later, my mom also emailed the Scavi, who confirmed her for a tour for a date and time I had already requested (and been denied).  No matter: we were simply happy to have tickets! 

The day that we arrived in Rome, we arrived at 9 a.m. and our tour started at 11:45 a.m.  We opted to take a shuttle from the airport to our hotel and then hoped to get from the hotel to the Vatican ASAP in order to make the tour.  Long story short, we did not make the tour.  We literally ran around the Vatican, tried to get everywhere in record times, and we arrived at the Scavi office at noon.  A group was standing outside the office so my parents and brother just joined that group while David ran into the office.  He didn't come out right away so I joined him just in time to hear the official saying, "Impossible!"  Getting a sinking feeling, I asked what was going on and David and the official explained that since we were late, another family got to take our place on the tour (understandable, but still stinky).  We asked the Scavi official if we could reschedule.  At first he just laughed at us and said "impossible!" again, and then suggested that we come back in January.  I told him that obviously we were not here that long and that we couldn't really help being late, so we would greatly appreciate any accommodation he could give us.  Finally, he said that there was a tour leaving at 1:30 and if we could be back at 1:00 p.m. we could join that tour. 

Basically, it seems that the Scavi is pretty precarious.  The man behind the counter was an Italian layperson (not a priest or a nun...whenever we came across those Vatican workers they were extremely nice, happy, and helpful).  It seems that the tours are just kind of jumbled.  I would say that if you want to request tours, have multiple people from your group request reservations and then be on time.  As long as you don't get frustrated you are likely to see the tour.

The effort was very worth it.  The tour was amazing and it was really neat to see the tombs underneath the Vatican.  It was like stepping into Ancient Rome (literally) as we toured grave sites and got a history lesson from a soon-to-be-priest from St. Louis (while we were on the tour with another family from St. Louis!).  The highlight of the tour (and maybe one of the highlights of being in Rome) was saying the Our Father in the room where St. Peter's tomb is located (and while seeing the bones that are believed to be his).  It was a wonderful experience that I was so happy to have as a Catholic and I am happy to have shared it with my family.

Midnight mass: The best website for any information for American visitors is the Bishop's Office for US Visitors to the Vatican.  It was so helpful and when I emailed the Office the replies were so friendly and helpful as well.  I e-mailed the office about requesting tickets to Midnight Mass.  They replied back that we could send a letter or a fax to a certain number in order to ask for tickets.  The day I got the email, I sent a letter to the Vatican with a sinking feeling because I knew that the mail would take weeks to reach the Vatican, especially when the small town postal worker said, "Vatican?  We've never had a letter go there!  I don't know how many days or weeks it will take to send it!"  Sheesh. 

Luckily, my parents have a fax machine in their house, so my mom tried to fax the request.  She faxed and faxed and had issues times ten with getting the fax to go through.  Finally, she was able to fax the letter to a nun at the Bishop's Office and asked the nun to please fax it to the appropriate person for us.  We did not hear back for about a week and then, one Saturday morning, my mom found a fax sitting in her machine that said that we had midnight mass tickets.  We had to pick up the tickets a day before the event at the Vatican.  On the day of the mass we arrived at the Vatican at 5:45 and joined a hugely long line.  The doors opened at 8 p.m., so we stood and watched as the Pope made an appearance in his apartment window with a candle:

The line was incredibly long and it was hilarious as people kept trying to butt in line near us.  Eventually, the line wrapped three times around the square and we got into the basilica.  People in front of us were running to get in and when we did we saw why: if you got in early enough you could sit on an aisle seat, which was closest to the Pope as he made his way down the aisle.  We got into the basilica and sat down near a friend we made while in line.

The mass was incredible and again, a wonderful, wonderful experience.  Everything was simply beautiful, from the music to the surroundings, to the readings and message from the Pope himself.  After taking the Scavi tour, I couldn't believe that I was celebrating Christmas in the Vatican, just above the ancient tomb of St. Peter.  This was definitely the highlight of our trip to Rome and was just gorgeous.  

Papal Audience: After my mom heard about midnight mass and that one could request tickets for that event, she suggested that I call my diocese to see about getting tickets to midnight mass.  I called my local diocese and asked about requesting tickets and the lady on the other end stated that she did not know how to request tickets to midnight mass, but mentioned tickets to a papal audience.  Apparently we had to ask our local priest, who would then request tickets from the Bishop himself.  When I told my mom this she volunteered to go through her diocese.  The Bishop wrote us a letter requesting tickets to the Audience and then one day I got an email telling us that we had the tickets.

The audience was another wonderful event.  We had to pick up the tickets near Trevi fountain before the event.  We picked them up at the Bishop's Office late Tuesday afternoon.  Since we were receiving an Indulgence at the Audience, we were encouraged to go to confession at the Office where a priest was waiting, so we did.

While waiting in line, we began to realize that we had golden tickets while most other people around us had blue tickets.  We figured that they were just printed on different pieces of paper until I walked into the auditorium and was spotted by a man in a tuxedo.  He said that I should follow him with a golden ticket, so I did (along with my family) and he seated us seven rows from the front.  My mom (who had gotten there earlier in the day) was already seated two rows from the front.  We have no idea how we got the golden ticket.

The Audience was spectacular.  My tip for a future visit would be to pretend you are with a group (i.e. when you request tickets, say you are with the "Smith Family Reunion" or something) because groups are called and can stand up and the Pope acknowledges them.  Again, I highly recommend requesting tickets for this event. 

Here is the message that the Pope said at our audience:

The Prayer and the Holy Family of Nazareth
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today’s meeting is taking place in the atmosphere of Christmas, imbued with deep joy at the Birth of the Saviour. We have just celebrated this Mystery whose echo ripples through the Liturgy of all these days. It is a Mystery of Light that all people in every era can relive with faith and prayer. It is through prayer itself that we become capable of drawing close to God with intimacy and depth.
Therefore, bearing in mind the theme of prayer that I am developing in the Catecheses in this period, I would therefore like to invite you to reflect today on the way that prayer was part of the life of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Indeed, the house of Nazareth is a school of prayer where one learns to listen, meditate on and penetrate the profound meaning of the manifestation of the Son of God, following the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
The Discourse of the Servant of God Paul VI during his Visit to Nazareth is memorable. The Pope said that at the school of the Holy Family we “understand why we must maintain a spiritual discipline, if we wish to follow the teaching of the Gospel and become disciples of Christ”. He added: “In the first place it teaches us silence. Oh! If only esteem for silence, a wonderful and indispensable spiritual atmosphere, could be reborn within us! Whereas we are deafened by the din, the noise and discordant voices in the frenetic, turbulent life of our time. O silence of Nazareth! Teach us to be steadfast in good thoughts, attentive to our inner life, ready to hear God’s hidden inspiration clearly and the exhortations of true teachers” (Discourse in Nazareth, 5 January 1964).
We can draw various ideas for prayer and for the relationship with God and with the Holy Family from the Gospel narratives of the infancy of Jesus. We can begin with the episode of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. St Luke tells how “when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses”, Mary and Joseph “brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (2:22). Like every Jewish family that observed the law, Jesus’ parents went to the Temple to consecrate their first-born son to God and to make the sacrificial offering. Motivated by their fidelity to the precepts of the Law, they set out from Bethlehem and went to Jerusalem with Jesus who was only 40 days old. Instead of a year-old lamb they presented the offering of simple families, namely, two turtle doves. The Holy Family’s pilgrimage was one of faith, of the offering of gifts — a symbol of prayer — and of the encounter with the Lord whom Mary and Joseph already perceived in their Son Jesus.
Mary was a peerless model of contemplation of Christ. The face of the Son belonged to her in a special way because he had been knit together in her womb and had taken a human likeness from her. No one has contemplated Jesus as diligently as Mary. The gaze of her heart was already focused on him at the moment of the Annunciation, when she conceived him through the action of the Holy Spirit; in the following months she gradually became aware of his presence, until, on the day of his birth, her eyes could look with motherly tenderness upon the face of her son as she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger.
Memories of Jesus, imprinted on her mind and on her heart, marked every instant of Mary’s existence. She lived with her eyes fixed on Christ and cherished his every word. St Luke says: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2:19) and thus describes Mary’s approach to the Mystery of the Incarnation which was to extend throughout her life: keeping these things, pondering on them in her heart. Luke is the Evangelist who acquaints us with Mary’s heart, with her faith (cf. 1:45), her hope and her obedience (cf. 1:38) and, especially, with her interiority and prayer (cf. 1:46-56), her free adherence to Christ (cf. 1:55).
And all this proceeded from the gift of the Holy Spirit who overshadowed her (cf. 1:35), as he was to come down on the Apostles in accordance with Christ’s promise (cf. Acts 1:8). This image of Mary which St Luke gives us presents Our Lady as a model for every believer who cherishes and compares Jesus’ words with his actions, a comparison which is always progress in the knowledge of Jesus. After Bl. Pope John Paul II’s example (cf. Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae) we can say that the prayer of the Rosary is modelled precisely on Mary, because it consists in contemplating the mysteries of Christ in spiritual union with the Mother of the Lord.
Mary’s ability to live by God’s gaze, is so to speak, contagious. The first to experience this was St Joseph. His humble and sincere love for his betrothed and his decision to join his life to Mary’s attracted and introduced him, “a just man”, (Mt 1:19), to a special intimacy with God. Indeed, with Mary and later, especially, with Jesus, he began a new way of relating to God, accepting him in his life, entering his project of salvation and doing his will. After trustfully complying with the Angel’s instructions “Do not fear to take Mary your wife” (Mt 1:20) — he took Mary to him and shared his life with her; he truly gave the whole of himself to Mary and to Jesus and this led him to perfect his response to the vocation he had received.
As we know, the Gospel has not recorded any of Joseph’s words: his is a silent and faithful, patient and hard-working presence. We may imagine that he too, like his wife and in close harmony with her, lived the years of Jesus’ childhood and adolescence savouring, as it were, his presence in their family.
Joseph fulfilled every aspect of his paternal role. He must certainly have taught Jesus to pray, together with Mary. In particular Joseph himself must have taken Jesus to the Synagogue for the rites of the Sabbath, as well as to Jerusalem for the great feasts of the people of Israel. Joseph, in accordance with the Jewish tradition, would have led the prayers at home both every day — in the morning, in the evening, at meals — and on the principal religious feasts. In the rhythm of the days he spent at Nazareth, in the simple home and in Joseph’s workshop, Jesus learned to alternate prayer and work, as well as to offer God his labour in earning the bread the family needed.
And lastly, there is another episode that sees the Holy Family of Nazareth gathered together in an event of prayer. When Jesus was 12 years old, as we have heard, he went with his parents to the Temple of Jerusalem. This episode fits into the context of pilgrimage, as St Luke stresses: “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom” (2:41-42).
Pilgrimage is an expression of religious devotion that is nourished by and at the same time nourishes prayer. Here, it is the Passover pilgrimage, and the Evangelist points out to us that the family of Jesus made this pilgrimage every year in order to take part in the rites in the Holy City. Jewish families, like Christian families, pray in the intimacy of the home but they also pray together with the community, recognizing that they belong to the People of God, journeying on; and the pilgrimage expresses exactly this state of the People of God on the move. Easter is the centre and culmination of all this and involves both the family dimension and that of liturgical and public worship.
In the episode of the 12-year-old Jesus, the first words of Jesus are also recorded: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49). After three days spent looking for him his parents found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions (cf. 2:46). His answer to the question of why he had done this to his father and mother was that he had only done what the Son should do, that is, to be with his Father.
Thus he showed who is the true Father, what is the true home, and that he had done nothing unusual or disobedient. He had stayed where the Son ought to be, that is, with the Father, and he stressed who his Father was.
The term “Father” therefore dominates the tone of this answer and the Christological mystery appears in its entirety. Hence, this word unlocks the mystery, it is the key to the Mystery of Christ, who is the Son, and also the key to our mystery as Christians who are sons and daughters in the Son. At the same time Jesus teaches us to be children by being with the Father in prayer. The Christological mystery, the mystery of Christian existence, is closely linked to, founded on, prayer. Jesus was one day to teach his disciples to pray, telling them: when you pray say “Father”. And, naturally, do not just say the word say it with your life, learn to say it meaningfully with your life. “Father”; and in this way you will be true sons in the Son, true Christians.
It is important at this point, when Jesus was still fully integrated in the life of the Family of Nazareth, to note the resonance that hearing this word “Father” on Jesus’ lips must have had in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. It is also important to reveal, to emphasize, who the Father is, and, with his awareness, to hear this word on the lips of the Only-Begotten Son who, for this very reason, chose to stay on for three days in the Temple, which is the “Father’s house”.
We may imagine that from this time the life of the Holy Family must have been even fuller of prayer since from the heart of Jesus the boy — then an adolescent and a young man — this deep meaning of the relationship with God the Father would not cease to spread and to be echoed in the hearts of Mary and Joseph.
This episode shows us the real situation, the atmosphere of being with the Father. So it was that the Family of Nazareth became the first model of the Church in which, around the presence of Jesus and through his mediation, everyone experiences the filial relationship with God the Father which also transforms interpersonal, human relationships.
Dear friends, because of these different aspects that I have outlined briefly in the light of the Gospel, the Holy Family is the icon of the domestic Church, called to pray together. The family is the domestic Church and must be the first school of prayer. It is in the family that children, from the tenderest age, can learn to perceive the meaning of God, also thanks to the teaching and example of their parents: to live in an atmosphere marked by God’s presence. An authentically Christian education cannot dispense with the experience of prayer. If one does not learn how to pray in the family it will later be difficult to bridge this gap. And so I would like to address to you the invitation to pray together as a family at the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth and thereby really to become of one heart and soul, a true family. Many thanks.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Oh, Abbie, that was so thorough! I almost feel like I was there! Maybe I will be someday.