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

“Everything good? We need to hurry, I only have the chapel for 45 minutes,” he said, not waiting for a response and bounding across the piazza to the Vatican door. Off to the side, I had just enough time to tell Paul that I was sure I was going to throw up.

My espresso hangover was peaking just as we reached Pope John Paul II’s private chapel. Paul was immediately immersed as Father John proceeded through the familiar routine of mass. I, on the other hand, feverishly searched the room with my eyes for a garbage can that I would seize when the inevitable sickness overcame me. There was none. I felt sweat beading on my forehead as the vision of my vomiting in such a sacred place swirled through my head. I focused solely on the 45-minute time limit Father John had mentioned and counted down in my head how much longer we had left to go.

It was then that Father John asked us, “Would you like to renew your wedding vows now?”

That sounded like it would take a while, I remember thinking to myself. Paul and Andy had been joking about this for days — hadn’t Father John heard them? I looked like an extra from the “Thriller” video – hadn’t anyone else noticed that? What was he thinking? I scrunched my nose and waved my hand as if declining a second sour dough roll from a waiter.

So it was with great surprise to me that Paul said out loud, “Yes – absolutely” and looked at my motioning hand with utter bewilderment.

Espresso hangover aside, the concept of renewing my wedding vows was not something I had ever considered. When I had heard of others renewing their wedding vows, it had always hinted to me that perhaps there was a need to do so.

We renewed our vows that early morning in the private Chapel of Pope John Paul II, and thankfully I did not throw up. In contrast to our wedding day 14 years earlier, there were no guests, no flowers, no music and only one photo taken by Father John who, mid-­ceremony, broke from his role as officiator and snapped a photo with my cell phone camera. There was no reception either. Instead I took a taxi back to our hotel to recover while Paul roamed the city with Father John on his motorino.

The memory of that day grows more special to me as time passes. Perhaps there was a need — a need I hadn't known about. A lot happens in 14 years, and events have a way of shedding light on things. Parents die, children are born, friends come and go, and homes are built. An on-going seesaw of ups and downs fill your weeks and months that quickly turn into years. There is no way of knowing what each new day will bring but since that day I am a believer. Once I stripped away the wedding gown, the 14-piece band and the outside eyes upon us, what was left between Paul and me in the eyes of God is what means the most. 

On my way back into the hotel that morning, I was approached by gypsies who pleaded for money. I don’t recall their faces or much about them, and I wasn’t scared. I remember that when asked if I had any change to spare, I decidely replied, for the second time that morning, “I do.”

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