On Saturday before the canonizations of John Paul II and John XXIII pilgrims from around the world filled the streets and churches in prayer vigils to prepare for the following day.
In the early evening as I walked through Piazza Navona black and white footage of John XIII played on the screens as young Polish pilgrims, many of whom were small children when John Paul II died, sat on their backpacks in the square having an early dinner. There are too many pilgrims to fit in St. Peter’s square so large video screens are set up in piazzas around the city.
Further up the square near the fountain I saw a priest in dark grey habit with a long rosary draped along his side standing around a bench with a group having wine and cheese. Behind him another group of Poles walked through the square holding the red and white Polish flag and singing songs.
Around 10 o’clock I walked around again and the Piazza Navona was now filled with thousands of Polish pilgrims gathered with banners and waving flags before the steps of the Church of St. Agnes (Sant’Agese in Agone) for a vigil mass. It was impressive to see quiet come over the crowd at the consecration and to hear the the Our Father in Polish echoing throughout the square.
At one point as I was walking through the streets, I heard singing in French. In front of the French church dedicated to St. Louis, the pilgrims, mostly younger people, were gathered to pray and sing in the plaza while French flags emblazoned with the Sacred Heart of Jesus waved overhead. When I came to Rome for the canonizations, I had expected to see the Poles here–some estimates said 500 buses were coming. But one thing that has struck me is the number of French pilgrims throughout the city. After Italian and Polish, the language I have heard most has been French. As several people have remarked, there is something happening in the French Church!