Today is Christmas Eve, the 24th anniversary of one of my fondest memories of the 30 months I spent in Italy when I was in the Navy. That Christmas was the third and final Christmas I would spend in Italy. I had had to work my first two Christmases, and dearly wanted to attend a Christmas Eve mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City. So on my last Christmas there, I finally got my chance. I was 21 years old.
That Christmas Eve was cold and rainy and generally dreary, so there was very little sightseeing, and so I made very few photographs. I had already been to Rome many times by then and didn’t see anything that day I hadn’t seen before — except the Pope, that is. The photograph below is one of the few I made that day. It is a picture of St. Peter’s Cathedral made during the afternoon, just before dusk.
The inside of St. Peter’s seats roughly 20,000 guests, and it was crammed full that evening. It was the first of two times I would get to see John Paul II in person. He walked right down the aisle to my left, just a few yards away. I won’t ever forget that.
Admittedly, I understood very little of what went on during the service. Very little of it was in English, and I’m not well-versed in Catholic worship rituals, anyway, so most of the service was literally foreign to me. Still, that evening stands as a highlight of those 2 1/2 years, as well as a great overall Christmas memory.