Tuesday, 24 June 2014
The final stamp
This was the morning we have been looking forward to for the last two weeks and at various times during the walk we had grave concerns on whether we would make it. It was a bright and early start and the hotel staff sent us off with a warm greeting although the lady on reception was at a loss to understand why we wanted to walk to St. Peter's Square. The sun was shining and in our over enthusiasm we set off at a brisk pace. The road was busy and we had to weave our way at times between people and traffic. The beauty of this walk today, unlike the previous days, was that we could make cafe stops whenever we wanted. Soon we were passing the Muslim Centre and then the various Embassies and then suddenly the famous sights of Rome opened up in front of us. We crossed the Tiber at the Ponte Regina Margherita instead of the Ponte Milvio, since we are still using google instead of relying on the unreliable signs, and there in front of us was the the dome of St Peters. Standing in St. Peter's square with the sun shining and surrounded by tens of thousands of people was a strange experience. Unlike the end of the Camino in Santiago there is no meeting of fellow pilgrims but never the less we enjoyed our finishing experience and soaked up the atmosphere. We then had to join the vast crowd that lines up to get through security and into the Basilica. At the main entrance to St Peters we asked where did we have to go to get our passbooks stamped in order to complete our journey. Well at that point everything changed. We were no longer just part of the visiting masses, no, we were Pellegrinoes, and the red carpet treatment was rolled out. In front of all the crowds the red barrier was removed and we were escorted into the sacristy. As we waited for an official to arrive we marvelled at seeing the behind the scenes in the Vatican. The official then asked for our passbooks that we had stamped each day of the walk at churches, town halls, or hotels, and he then took these away in order that they could be checked and verified. We had a ten minute wait before he returned and presented us with our parchment certificates confirming that we had completed the walk and gave us back our passbooks with the final stamp from the Vatican. We had done it and it was at that point that it became emotional. We were then escorted back into the main church where we were given tickets for tomorrow's audience with the Pope. I knew he wouldn't forget my birthday and I am expecting a slice of Vatican birthday cake. Will let you know tomorrow how the audience goes.