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Phespirit goes to Vatican City
The Holy See     February/March 2002

Sundays are the best days to see the Holy See for, each Sunday at high noon, the Pope addresses the masses in Piazza San Pietro from the third floor balcony of his private study in the Apostolic palace. So Phespirit entered Vatican City on a Sunday .....

The plan was to visit the Vatican Museum in the morning, listen to what the Pope had to say for himself at midday, then look around St. Peter's Basilica and the rest of the City in the afternoon. From his hotel in Rome, on Via Nazionale, Phespirit caught the Metro from Repubblica to Ottaviano, then walked down to the museum, arriving a quarter of an hour before it was due to open. Even at this early hour the queue stretched over half a kilometre and was getting longer with every minute. The reason: free admittance on the last Sunday of each month. The queuing outside was a pain; the art inside was a wonder.

Not until ten to twelve did Phespirit finally spill back out into the sunshine and trot around to Piazza San Pietro to join the crowds waiting for their beloved pontiff. Groups of worshipers representing cities, towns and communes from around the world had come together and were now working themselves into a state of primitive religious frenzy with drums and bongoes, guitars and clapping, singing and dancing, banners and balloons.

The Pope shuffled onto his balcony at one minute past twelve. It took him a few moments to silence the assembled loonies, after which he recited the Angelus in a frail, quailing voice. Like a true showman, he then worked his audience by blessing a few towns whose names were written on banners. The cheering was predictable, the crowd was happy and - after just eighteen minutes - the show was over.

Phespirit retreated to Gelati Artigianali, the ice cream shop at 25, Via Della Conciliazione, and bought a medium-size cone for €1.80. Medium-size in Italy is an extremely generous measure indeed; ice cream is stacked very high and very wide and is very very delicious. So Phespirit had another.

Despite still feeling a little bit peckish, Phespirit resisted the temptation to queue up for the Eucharist in St. Peter's Basilica. Instead, he contented himself with a stroll around the huge spaces of the church, a look in the treasury, a peek in the grottoes and a climb up the dome. It is some big basilica.

This Catholic entertainment was not sufficient to cure Phespirit of his atheism but it was good enough to inspire a second visit when the place was less crowded. And that is good enough for Phespirit.

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