So the Pope did come yesterday, ash cloud notwithstanding — what is a puny volcano when you have God on your side?! As expected, the entire city shut down, and the celebrations resembled a much more sedate version of what we witnessed on Sunday night. About as many people, equally as devoted, but less rowdy and rambunctious. Not so much red face paint, either.

When I went to the gym around noon, Avenida da Liberdade was closed to all except buses and taxis. Normally I take my life into my hands when crossing that street, so it was strange to see it more or less deserted. Barriers had been set up to keep people on the sidewalk, and as I walked home, big groups of police were unloading from their transport vans and starting to set up shop.

Throughout the afternoon, I heard amplified chanting (which sounded like nothing other than the muezzin in Morocco), and an increasing number of helicopters overhead. Around 5:45, about forty-five minutes before the mass was due to begin in the huge Terreiro do Paco square down on the riverfront, I flicked on the TV. As soon as I did so, I was rewarded with a shot of the Popemobile (or Papamovel, in Portuguese — apparently every language has a word for it) moving in grand formation down the Avenida just outside our house. I was very glad I wasn’t down there though, as I could already see the crowds lining the streets, many of them waving Portuguese flags or ones with the Pope’s face on them.

The Popemobile itself managed to be both absurd and impressive at the same time. It looked like one of those ugly Brat cars from the 70s, a kind of sedan/pick-up truck, with a tall glass chamber set in the bed. The same can be said of the man inside the vehicle, whose grand robes only served to highlight the fact that he looked like a rather bemused little old gnome, more like someone’s kindly grandfather than a major religious leader and head of state. Again, I was glad I hadn’t fought with the crowds to get one glance of him as he drove by, because it would’ve been rather anticlimactic.

Instead, I watched the whole procession and the following mass on TV, understanding very little of it. I’m not sure what was more cryptic — the Portuguese, or the Catholic rituals. Possibly both. But the whole thing was beautiful, both in setting and in pomp, with the setting sun glinting off of the clouds overhead and the river spread out behind their immaculate white pavilion. Sailboats were pulled up as close as they could get to the back of the square, which I thought would be the proper way to watch, since according to the news there were 160,000 people in the square itself. Many of them had been waiting there for hours, but everyone seemed very happy to be there, which again mystified me. But then who am I to understand the religious proclivities of others?

Gabe got home about halfway through the two hour mass, and we ate dinner while marveling at the grandness of it all — not to mention the expense. I know the pavilion was custom made, as they have been redoing the entire square at Terreiro do Paco ever since we arrived here, likely for this very event. And I very much doubt they had a Popemobile just sitting around in Portugal waiting for him to get here someday. Not a small energy footprint there, either.

Looking at all this, I could definitely see why so much resentment has been directed at the Catholic church and its riches throughout the ages. If I were a beggar starving in the gutter, I would not want their meager wafers, watered down wine, and promises of Heavenly riches. I would look at that fat gold ring on his hand, the quality of his robes (how many times did he change for a two hour event?!), or the huge gold staff he was carrying, and I would find life patently unfair. One can occasionally sympathize with Henry VIII.

All of that aside, however, it was a grand spectacle indeed, and hugely entertaining from a sociological point of view. People waited in the square for hours, presumably to get a glance at the Pope and/or take communion as blessed by him. Just as with Benfica the other night, the level of devotion was palpable even through the TV screen. Or perhaps they were just trying to get a glimpse of someone famous, as we were. Whatever their motives, there were people of all kinds in the square: little kids wearing Papa Bento T-shirts, nuns with wimples, young men in uniforms, choirs singing hallelujah. You name it, they were there. It was fascinating.

Just as we were getting ready to have our post-dinner cup of tea, we saw the golden Papal hat going onto the white Papal head, and the beringed Papal hand once again taking up the gold Papal staff. “He’s on the move!” we said, and hurried down to Avenida, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Papamovel as it left town.

There was no need to hurry in the end, as it took him a good twenty minutes to reach us. But we didn’t mind, as it was a nice night out, and the crowds had by then all gone down to see the action at Terreiro do Paco. Our end of Avenida was thankfully more or less deserted, aside from the very bored-looking cops stationed every ten feet or so along the length of the road. Eventually we started seeing cars with blacked out windows whizzing by at a massive speed, causing Gabe to speculate that the real Pope was in one of those cars, with a fake one in the Papamovel behind. Not a bad theory.

Soon enough, we saw the motorcade rounding the corner into the Restauradores square down the street, with the odd and decidedly un-aerodynamic Papamovel towering above them all. He passed us not twenty feet away, smiling faintly and waving. All I could think of was my dad, who used to look about that tired at the end of the day. Poor guy, I thought. He looks exhausted.

And then he was past us, making his way up Avenida, leaving the closed off street to the traffic barriers and the cops. How odd to see that normally crowded street completely silent and empty except for one man — and 150,000 of his closest friends, who had been trickling their way back home for some time.

Gabe wanted to see the setup at Terriero do Paco now that it was empty, so we tried to make like salmon and go against the stream of people. But it bottlenecked at Restauradores, and I balked at the noisy crowd, so home we went. I didn’t feel any more holy or blessed for having seen the Pope, but did get a thrill from having seen someone famous, just as I did when I saw John Edwards talk at LSE, or when the Queen almost ran a bunch of us over when we visited Windsor. Not enough of a thrill to have stood around the square for four hours, but enough to have justified walking down the hill at any rate.

So there you have it: our second religious manifestation of the week. This has certainly been an eventful one here in Lisbon.

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