The chance to witness the canonization of two popes drew hundreds of thousands of the strong in spirit to St. Peter’s Square.
But it was no place for the faint of heart.
“It really was an endurance contest, getting into the square,” said Colleen McInerney, a parishioner of Curé of Ars Church in Leawood.
From miscommunications about where and when to enter the square to a crushing crowd of pilgrims clamoring to get close, the few days leading to the April 27 canonizations of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II held some frustrations.
McInerney saw a few fights nearly break out. People lashed out with colorful phrases in countless languages. And some members of the massive crowd pushed, shoved — and passed out.
There were definitely ups and downs, but McInerney, a sophomore studying theology and Spanish at the University of Dallas, wouldn’t trade being there for the world.
“Most people don’t get to see any pope in their lives, and I got to see two at the same time,” she said. “Most people don’t get to see a canonization, and I got to see two at the same time.”
The university has a campus in Rome, where she has spent this semester studying.
Still, with finals looming and a chance of rain in the forecast, she wasn’t entirely convinced she would spend April 26 camping out for a spot at the canonizations until she actually arrived there.
McInerney and her friends were initially disappointed there wouldn’t be tickets to the historic event, but the way it played out gave people from around the world the same chance to be present for the moment.
“It was cool to hear everyone’s stories,” said McInerney.
One group walked from Krakow in John Paul II’s native Poland to Vienna, and then hitchhiked the rest of the way into Italy.
Some Polish Sisters settled next to their group for a while and sang “Lord, When You Came to the Seashore” — a melody that was familiar to the English-speaking students, even if the words weren’t.
Studying in Europe this year, McInerney has attended Masses in Hungarian, German, Polish, Italian and Latin — all made possible by the Second Vatican Council, since before that, Mass was said only in Latin.
But it really wasn’t until she sat with friends preparing for the canonizations that she understood Pope John XXIII’s role as a catalyst for that in calling for the council.
She and a friend even added their voices to those shouting
“John the 23rd!” in response to the crowd around them chanting “JP2! We love you!”
Pope John Paul II’s death when McInerney was in fifth grade came at a time when she was really just starting to understand the church — and it sparked an interest that eventually played a role in her decision to major in theology.
She sees his influence in everything from the theology of the body to an increased interest in the priesthood.
McInerney was charmed by the way Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI greeted one another at this celebration, linking four popes to the historic occasion.
“You were acutely aware you were in the presence of two popes the whole time,” she said.
And Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist in the Mass really wrapped together the church’s history for McInerney.
Although exhausted from a weekend of too little sleep, too much waiting, many conversations and — finally — the precious seats, she was overjoyed to have been part of the experience.
“It’ll be something I tell the grandkids someday,” she said.