I’ve been home from Rome for a week now and I admit that I’ve become a bit of a Rome-dropper (as opposed to a name-dropper). My Facebook page, Twitter feed, and website are covered with Rome references and for good reason: the whirlwind trip was among the most amazing and memorable experiences of my life.
Aside from “How was the Mass of Inauguration for Pope Francis?” the next most common question I’ve been asked is “How were you chosen to go?” While being careful not to say something I’m not supposed to, I can tell you this much: I was nominated by someone from Ontario whom I respect very much. He was among a group of three people who provided lists of 20 names or so. Then, an employee from the Prime Minister’s office had to whittle the list from 60 people down to 14. The final 14 were approved by the CCCB (Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops) and the rest – as they say – is history.
My gut feeling is that I kept “advancing” through each stage or filter because of a few factors: I’m from BC, I’m Asian, I work with youth, and I’m good-looking (haha). I wouldn’t say at all that I “earned” or “deserved” the invitation, rather I was blessed to be “noticed” for the work that we are doing collectively here in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. I do know that they wanted to invite people who would be able to share and articulate their experiences upon returning home to their respective communities and spheres of influence.
So, without further ado, here are the Top 10 Things I Miss About Rome:
10. Nametags galore. The Governor General’s office provided me with a name tag for almost everything: for gmy official credentials, for my suitcase, for my computer bag, for my camera bag, and even for my seat on the airplane. Too bad I took my airplane nametag with me after arriving in Rome as I was the only person without a placeholder on the airplane travelling back to Canada.
9. Being called Mr. Imoo. I was called “Mr. Imoo” by everyone from the Governor General’s office. And here’s the kicker: they pronounced it correctly every single time! Given the way I was treated, they truly could have called me anything they wanted and I still would have been smiling profusely.
8. Reserved seating. Aside from the assigned seat (and entire row) on the Government of Canada airplane, we had reserved seats at the Inauguration Mass for Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square just 30 rows from the altar on the right side. Just as remarkable as our seats was the feeling entering St. Peter’s Square from beside the Basilica (as opposed to coming from the back or sides) as walking right next to the main steps to the altar as we made our way to our seats.
7. Asking “What language is being spoken?” This happened a few times during the Inauguration Mass, as prayers or readings were presented in English, Latin, Spanish, Greek, Russian, Arabic, French, Mandarin, Swahili, and of course, Italian. It took me a few minutes to discover that Pope Francis was giving his homily in Italian.
6. Asking “Can you translate for me?” Related to #7, once I figured out what language was being spoken (and if there wasn’t a translation provided for me in the liturgy guide), I would ask my colleagues in the delegation to translate important points for me. For example, the priest I was sitting next to at the Mass gave me a quick one-minute recap after Pope Francis was done his homily. And I’m sure thankful that he did…as I took a media call a few hours later and they asked me what I thought about the homily!
5. A sense of security. Everywhere we went, we had security detail with us: on the plane, on the streets, in our hotel, when we drove, and at the Mass itself. The security extended back home as well: I was told that people in Ottawa were monitoring our tweets, Facebook pages, and blogs as a security precaution. There’s a funny story behind this, but it’s not something I can disclose on a public blog. Ask me in person if you want to know about it. :p
4. The bidet. Anyone who has been to my home in Richmond knows that each of our toilets is outfitted with a bidet. It’s a nice luxury to have and it’s helped us cut down on our toilet paper consumption by over 50%. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw the beautiful bidet in my hotel room bathroom. I just had to be careful not to mix up the bidet with the toilet. That wouldn’t have been a pretty sight.
3. A bubble bath every night. At the end of each day (and sometimes in the middle of it), I would sneak in a bubble bath. For whatever reason – primarily the fact I’m a 38 year-old man – I don’t take a lot of bubble baths at home. But, for whatever reason, I sought out opportunities to do so when I was in Rome. In fact, the number of bubble baths I took almost outnumbered the hours of sleep I got.
2. Our hotel. I’ve already mentioned a couple of features: the bidet and the bubble baths. Our hotel was a 5-star property, almost palace-like. It wasn’t lost on me that Pope Francis had urged some bishops (especially those in his home country of Argentina) to not bring delegations to Rome and instead donate the money to the poor. However, I didn’t have much choice in the matter, and I wasn’t about to book separate accommodation. Admittedly, I got over this hang up pretty quickly. My only regret is that I didn’t take advantage of the comfortable bed: in the 60 hours I was in Rome, I slept for a total of 6 hours.
1. The motorcade. I don’t think words can do this element of the trip justice. Immediately upon landing in Rome, we were whisked into Mercedes vans, SUVs, and busses to make our way to the hotel. Led by Italian police (with lights flashing and sirens ringing), we proceeded to rip through the streets of Rome. It was something you’d see in a movie or TV show and probably the most surreal part of the trip. To this day, I still can’t believe we didn’t get into any accidents nor hit any pedestrians (Lord knows we came close). Anytime we traveled, we did so via the motorcade. It was especially helpful on the Tuesday morning we needed to get to St. Peter’s Square (along with what seemed like half of the people of Rome) for the Inauguration Mass.
Now if only I could arrange for something similar to navigate the busy streets of Richmond…