Fast forward to today and, as most of you know, I teach mindfulness, which has its roots in the Buddhist tradition.
I've wanted to visit Italy for decades. My dad and I toyed with the idea of going together, but when it came time to make the plans, he said it was too big of a trip for him. It wasn't but a few months later he had a stroke which revealed metastasized lung cancer. He was gone within the year.
As things unfolded in my life and intimate relationship at the time, this period became a catalyst that landed me into recovery for codependence (and, eventually, all other substances and activities that I compulsively take part in) and the idea of Italy was tucked away under some sorely needed healing. I continued my spiritual quest and regularly put those practices ahead of other things in life and rebuilt my life one day at a time.
During this time returned to university and completed two degrees. I also took pilgrimage to India, exploring three major religions, and have since traveled throughout Thailand, enjoying the roots of the tradition I now practice (Theravada Buddhism).
But recently as resources and time began to show themselves, I opened to the possibility of making the trip and by late September of 2019, I was ready to commit. I specifically chose one of the most auspicious times for the Catholic tradition, Christmas, as the best time to experience and observe the tradition in practice. Further, I love traveling during the holidays, particularly to cities where the decorations and festivities are grand, and I was increasingly curious about what Christmas would look like and what traditions would be practiced in a strong Catholic culture. Certainly it would be different than how it is currently celebrated in the States.
My partner, Jim, decided to forego a trip to Thailand to meet his newest granddaughter to come along for the full journey with me. He, too, is part Italian and raised in the Catholic tradition. Having traveled there numerous times, he was always enamored with Italy and we had talked many times throughout our years together how wonderful it would be to travel there. Things soon fell into place and the flights were booked.
I took pilgrimage all over the world, why not in my original spiritual tradition? It was time.
When called, I've attended Christmas Eve midnight mass throughout the years, most recently in 2018 in Vancouver, BC, while visiting Jim's daughter. Out of curiosity, I learned that we could attend Christmas Eve mass at the Vatican, the seat of the Catholic Church, but one needed to apply for tickets (all of which are free) some two to six months in advance. St. Peter's Basilica, the main cathedral, is in St. Peter's Square and together they boast to accommodate some 80,000 people.
Applications are taken via fax or mail and as the two month mark quickly approached and I couldn't get a fax through, I thought the odds were quite slim to get the tickets. But I sent off the letter with hope and continued planning for the trip. A few weeks before our departure a hand-typed letter from the Vatican arrived--two invitations were reserved and instructions given to retrieve the tickets a few days in advance!
"Presenting this letter, you will be able to come to the Bronze Door of the Apostolic Palace on Christmas Eve or on the two preceding days to collect your two invitations (Reg. No 42147) which will indicate the relevant time, place and access. The Bronze Door is situated in St. Peter's Square where the right-hand Bernini colonnade begins. With every good wish, I am sincerely yours..." ~excerpt of letter from Vatican informing us of two tickets reserved for the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Square
I was excited and intrigued with the mystery of the process--the Bronze Door of the Apostolic Palace... near the Bernini colonnade...what adventures lay waiting!
(to be continued)
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom