Matt's memo from Rome

Matt Mulcahy in Rome

Canonization Day: Mattâ??s Memo

As I write, the bells of St. Peterâ??s Basilica are chiming on the half hour just outside the window of the convent where we have worked this week on the Canonization. I glance to my right and see the two windows of the Papal residence. A short stretch of my neck and there is the roof of the Sistine Chapel. A peek out the window and people are entering the Basilica right under the giant portrait of Saint Marianne. What a gift this week has been.

Before the sun heated up St. Peterâ??s Square this morning we waited to enter with tens of thousands. Our media credentials would help gain access once in the square, but they offered no help when pressed between pilgrims from around the world. I was stuck in the mass of people between sisters from every order. People were speaking French, Spanish, German, Italian, Asian languages and English.

It was a test of human patience. As the crowd pressed from the rear ready to breach the security blockade I stood firm trying to protect some of the tiny sisters who were put in jeopardy. One was praying the Hail Mary. At last the pressure released as more and more people were allowed into the square.

We briskly walked past plain clothes officers, uniformed police and the familiar Swiss Guard who still wear uniforms designed by Michaelangelo himself some 500 years ago.

As we stepped through the crowd we met another blockade. With the hour of Canonization upon us we had to aggressively move through the crowd with our credentials raised in the air. The uniformed police let us through.

Then it was up a construction elevator some six floors above the square to an area known as the braccio. Camera crews from around the world were posted to get the best view of Pope Benedict as he entered. The angelic sound of choir music reverberated around the colonnade through the square.

The Holy Father came toward our location as he entered in his gold ceremonial vestments. It was one of a handful of highlighted moments of the day. Giant television screens projected his image out to the crowd. He is 85. One sister mentioned he appeared frail. He walked on his own, but had assistance climbing the stairs to the altar. His voice sounded soft, but clear as he breezed through Italian, Latin, French, Spanish and English.

The other high points: Sharon Smith, the second miracle, carrying the Tao cross representing Mother Marianne. I talked with her afterward she said she was shaking with nervousness. She was escorted by Dr. Richard Hehir and Sister Michaeleen. Also, three Franciscan sisters from Syracuse received communion from the Pope.

The two hour Canonization and Mass ended with the Pope offering his Angelus, his weekly Sunday message. Then it was time for the Pope mobile.

We had already watched him take a spin last Wednesday as he arrived for the Papal audience. I knew the route. I got a spot right next to a corner where he would make a turn. My camera was ready to go. As soon as he came into sight I started snapping pictures. Security keeps him from interacting with the crowd. Thatâ??s the closest he gets to touching the people. Despite his small stature the elevation from the vehicle gives him a quality that is bigger than life.

Afterwards we talked Sister Helen Hofmann, one of the Syracuse sisters in the Franciscan Order. She was emotional in describing the importance of Mother Marianne in her life. She models her exemplary behavior. She also fought back a tear as she shared the experience of receiving communion from the Pope. She only had the opportunity because another sister had to bow out due to illness.

The sun is now setting on Saint Peterâ??s Square. Since I started writing the light has come on in the office in the Popeâ??s private office. That indicates he is in residence. We are looking forward to our return home, but also so proud to have covered a wonderful story in one of the great cities in the world.