My Visit to Pope John Paul II's Private Chapel

An impromptu renewal of her wedding vows in Rome grows more special with time.

by Karen Carvelli • Member { View Profile }
Photograph: iStock

“There’s a message” Paul said sounding more than a bit perplexed.

It was 8 a.m., and I had just crash landed on the bed in our hotel room and was busy testing which pillow was most nap friendly after our overnight, no-sleep, transatlantic flight to Rome.

Four days and nights of childless abandon in The Eternal City with my husband, brother, and sister-­‐in-­law had just begun. Paul and I had honeymooned in Italy 14 years prior, but our 10-­‐day excursion was spread far too thin across five locations, including a hectic two­‐day stop in Rome.

My memory of Rome had unfortunately mostly faded. The Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum had all been right in front of me. Yet, 14 years later my most vivid memory was of the gypsies I had been forewarned would target me, the naïve, lost looking, blond tourist with the fanny pack. A wrinkled old woman shrouded in a long black robe approached me along with a swarm of tattered-­‐looking children who surrounded and scared the life out me.

“I don’t!,” I nervously snapped at them when they asked if I had any change to spare.

“Buongiorno! Welcome to Roma! I’m waiting in the lobby so come on down as soon as you’re ready. Ciao!” announced Father John in a message over the telephone speaker.

We had agreed to meet up with an acquaintance from home, a young Catholic priest we had met a handful of times through family. Since we last saw him, he had ventured back to Rome to study for an advanced degree in Canon Law. He was 30-­something, gregarious, tall, handsome and clearly an early riser and very eager tour guide. We splashed water on our faces and rushed down to the lobby.

It’s worth noting that brother Andy, sister-in-law Tracey and I are not Catholic. But my husband Paul is a devout Catholic and was immediately drawn in by Father John's welcome to "Disneyland for Catholics."  

When in Rome, I highly recommend spending as much time as possible with a Catholic priest by your side. It is the equivalent of walking through a New Jersey town with Bruce Springsteen in tow; a priest is a rock star in Rome. Crowds part as you walk the sidewalks, lines disappear at cafes and gelatarias, and no restaurant reservation is out of reach. Despite his Polish descent, Father John spoke beautiful Italian and proved to be an expert in all things Roma. He expedited our way through the cobblestone streets with purpose and efficiency. At each stop we were fussed and catered to as if paparazzi would be arriving at any moment. Day one was complete and not a gypsy in sight.

The Basilica of St. Peter awaited us on the second day and specifically, the Scavi Tour. The Scavi is an underground tour of the Necropolis, something very sacred and very difficult to arrange. Most visitors have applied for their tour more than a year in advance.

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