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

“Quattro caffè espresso per favore,” Paul proudly asked the waiter in his broken Italian.

I sipped the espresso at first and then gulped the remainder as I had seen done countless times by others. It was strong, quite bitter and not hot enough for my decidedly British taste. I was glad, though, to have checked it off my bucket list. Paul, Andy and Tracey anxiously awaited my review and seemed disappointed when I simply stated, “It’s O.K. I guess.”

“This is not the right place for you to have espresso. I will take to you to THE place,” Paul declared.

And so, on a stroll back to our hotel two hours later, we stopped at an espresso café known for its authenticity, and I drank my second espresso ever. Wiser since lunch and eager to please, I appeasably proclaimed, “This is fantastic! I love espresso. I can’t believe I haven’t tried it before today.”

Later that evening, we met up with Father John for our final dinner together. While I was deep in discussion with Tracey about the itinerary for the following day, our last, Father John proceeded to order a round of espressos to conclude our dinner. I declined at first, but gave in to the expectant looks and peer pressure surrounding me ... and I drank my third espresso in six hours.

That night was a blur. A fast, pulsing, spinning blur. I lay awake all night feeling my heart pounding, my blood pumping and drowning in the ticking clock and drip, drip, drip of the shower faucet. I could not close my eyes and could not slow the thoughts whirring in my head. Espresso was my tequila.

The hours passed, and Paul rolled over on several occasions and pleaded with me to close my eyes and get some sleep.

“We have an early wake-up call for the special mass at the Vatican in the morning,” he needlessly reminded me. My inner voice sinfully cursed his every heavy sleeping breath.

“Three espressos in six hours – was I mad? How could I have done such a stupid thing?,” I screamed only to myself.

The phone rang at 6 a.m. I needed no wake-up call since I had not slept the entire night. Paul looked at me with a furrowed brow.

“You’re O.K., right?," he asked. "You can make it with me to meet Father John, right?" He cautiously awaited my reply.

There was no way I could say anything but, “Of course. I’ll be fine.”

We arrived at the Vatican at 7 a.m. sharp. I had been too tired and too ill to look in the mirror. My hair had been haphazardly gathered into a ponytail and my mustard yellow sweater hurriedly tucked into my twice-­worn khaki pants with the dime sized marinara stain on the right thigh. My lame efforts to mask my all-­nighter and my on-going nausea had clearly not worked when I saw the look on Father John’s face upon greeting us.

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