We were so excited when we saw the banners greet us at the airport. When we passed any television the Pope’s visit to his native South America was being televised. The Pope was on every wall, every church and in every store. It was Pope Mania and we were all in!
The next day we decided to visit all of the sites Pope Francis would visit on his trip to Cartagena. The churches, cathedrals and convents were so beautiful. We even debated on whether we should spend the10,000 pesos on the official Pope kit, a silk screened white t-shirt, flag, and a hat with a commemorative bag. I had to keep reminding Ol it was only $3.50 USD.
When the barriers started going up and the city became filled with religious pilgrims we started plotting the best spot to get close to the festivities. Using Google Translate we interrupted police planning meetings in Plazas to make sure the location we picked would be permissible. It seems our every move was thwarted. Bishops, priests, nuns and dignitaries were everywhere. We needed tickets or better yet a miracle to even get close.
Our hopes were dashed when the night before we saw 1.2 million showed up at the mass in Medellin and the crowds lining the roads were 12 people deep. Should we dress as priests or stake our ground the night before. After a late night we decided surely 5 a.m. would be good enough.
Five somehow turned into nine a.m. and after we left our hostel in the historic district we were met by barricade after barricade. The city was eerily quiet as no cars were allowed into the walled city. We tried to make our way to the Cathedral but the police kept redirecting us. We saw all the lucky people dressed in white with their golden tickets streaming into queues to go through security. The nuns with their Pope hats were precious. We were so disappointed, but at the same time we were excited for everyone. It was bigger and better than the the Super Bowl. It was people watching at its best. It was the devout with the rich and famous. We were seeing the who’s who of South America. We didn’t know who anyone was, but enjoyed watching the Telemundo red carpet.
Ol was about to give up and join the masses outside the walled city, when I convinced him to head north. We met a nice national police officer who checked our bag and let us into a square which was almost empty. The Columbian equivalent of the secret service was everywhere, as was the Swiss Guard. I knew we had stumbled onto something. It was the first time we saw guns on any of the police officers during our visit.
We were inside the Plaza Santa Domingo which turned out to be in front of the old church and the Spanish Consulate where the Holy Father was having lunch! We still had three hours to wait and there were only thirty people waiting around. Ol was convinced we were wasting our time. It didn’t make sense that no one was there. Thank you Google Translate! We befriended all branches of the military and the police and they assured us El Papa would be dining at the consulate and we would see him coming and going.
It was a wonderful three hours. We made friends with a hostel full of Brazilians. Locals who owned the restaurant across the street from where we stood and a delightful couple from North Carolina who was stranded because of Hurricane Irma.
The square eventually partially filled and when El Papa entered the square, our Holy Father was beautifully serenaded.
To be part of something so special we felt truly blessed!