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

“Hurry, hurry, we need to get started everyone,” Father John was saying as we flocked behind him. Father John, it turned out, was working as a Scavi tour guide during his time in Rome and had secured us a spot on his tour. He led our group of 15 through various dark levels of excavation, past Roman city ruins and upon grounds once navigated by pre-­Christian Roman nobles. It culminated at what is believed to be the tomb of St. Peter, a sight that stirred great emotion for many in our group and brought Paul to tears. At the completion of our tour, we emerged on the favorable side of velvet ropes protecting the Papal tombs from the throngs of tourists. In keeping with the mood, Paul lingered over each of the tombs with profound devotion. 

“Over here,” Father John motioned the four of us, now splintered from our tour group, down a descending hallway to the private chapel of Pope John Paul II.

Andy, Tracey and I marveled at the history of the room and its craftsmanship, while listening to Father John explain the private uses of the chapel by Pope John Paul II during his reign. Paul spent his time praying at the kneeler and accepted Father John’s offer to briefly hold the Pope’s staff.

We continued the day walking with our own personal rock star guiding us from one “must see” to another. We laughed and talked freely with Father John, sometimes forgetting his role as a priest and simply enjoying his company as our friend. He offered, more than once, the opportunity for Paul and me to renew our wedding vows in the Vatican. I deferred to Paul and laughed along at the ensuing jokes each time the topic was raised.

“Does he get another bachelor party?” Andy chimed in.
“Can I write my own vows — I may have a few things I'd like to change?” Paul joked.

“Do I get another diamond ring?” I threw in the mix.

On the third day, we navigated the streets of Rome without Father John. It was a slower pace, to say the least. We had knocked off all our “must see” items in the first two days and now were just taking in some of the surroundings and relaxing a bit.

Lingering over a late lunch, we talked about our trip’s highlights and how we would spend our remaining time. Paul surprised me when he shared that he had accepted Father John’s offer for the two of us to attend a private mass in the chapel of Pope John Paul II at 7 a.m. the following morning. Andy and Tracey had declined the early morning invitation.

“Great, that sounds wonderful,” I said. I knew how special it would be for him and took pleasure, as partners in life do, in his wide eyed enthusiasm.

Toward the end of our lunch, I shared a mildly interesting fact about myself. “I have never tried espresso,” I offered.

Paul proceeded to tell the story of our honeymoon in Italy 14 years earlier, at which time I neither

drank coffee nor wine. I somehow had managed a 10-­day trip to Italy drinking only tea and beer. I have since grown to love coffee and wine. Espresso, however, still eluded me.

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