No, I am not Catholic. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t interested in seeing the Pope when he came to town. I just had no idea I’d actually be able to. After all, I’d seen the Queen on her visit, so what were the chances that I’d get to attend this event, too?
My good friend, Jan, sent me an email at noon the day before. Did I want to be a volunteer? Without hesitation, yes. I attended a meeting on the Sou.th Lawn that day and was given my assignment – to usher people onto the mags (the metal detectors) from the ticket check. A pretty pointless job, to be honest. But the purpose was the make sure no one wandered off the path, and to give them another welcoming smile.
Prior to the event that morning (a cold 5:30am morning, I might add), my fellow greeters and I, went through the mags to use the restrooms and walk around on the Sou.th Lawn (the backyard of the White House). One woman encouraged me to stay and pretend as though my volunteer job was closer to the action, but I really didn’t feel right about it. Instead, I walked back to my designated spot and stood (toes frozen) for hours as the ticketholders began to arrive. I can’t express the joy I felt when the sun began to rise and bring heat to the chilly air.
After greeting thousands of guests (you should’ve seen the never-ending line), I was left at the end of the line, one of the last people to walk through the mags. A big bummer, if you ask me. I needed a sneaky rule-breaker. And I found one. I spotted a guy I’d met just days before that I knew wouldn’t be content in the back, either. After being turned away at the bottom of the drive, we devised a plan to get in anyway. We would take some empty boxes we’d found to the ‘trash area’, right next to the back door of the White House. Fake it ‘til you make it, and that’s exactly what we did. We grabbed the boxes, flashed our volunteer badges, and walked right past the ticket checker (who was also just another volunteer).
I snapped a few shots near the back door – shots of the trellis and patio, and me on the side of the portico. “Soak it up,” I thought. “Soak it up.”
But we needed to find a good spot to stand. How would we get into VIP? By acting as though we were supposed to be there. We walked right into the Congressional VIP section. I guess they thought my partner-in-crime looked like a Congressman. But with standing room only even among the VIP, it still didn’t look as though I’d be able to see anything. And then, one by one, I was being allowed to step ahead of people in the crowd. They saw me standing on my tiptoes, too short to see above the tall gentlemen around me. Before I knew it, I was standing behind only a handful of people, as close as I could’ve been to the podium without being the Speaker of the House!
The ceremony was great, and some of it was much like the ceremony for the Queen, with the 21-gun salute and the fife and drum band. I loved hearing a soprano sing The Lord’s Prayer, while the harp played along with her. Just as the news announced, there were two rounds of “Happy Birthday” (at the beginning and end) as we waved our mini American and Italian flags in the air.
My favorite quote from the Pope was this: “’In a worl.d without truth, freedom loses its foundation,’ and a democ.racy without values can lose its very soul.” A statement we should all pay attention to as we watch the morals and the teaching of our Founders fade away.
After the ceremony had ended, I stayed on the Lawn as long as I could. Pictures, pictures, pictures. By the podium, by the portico, on the red carpet . . and with Tommy Lasorda! The freezing morning had become a beautiful day. The weather was perfect and so was my experience.