22 June, 2015
One of the cities I really wanted to see before I left Italy was Torino, the home of the towering Mole Antonelliana, the rich National Museum of Cinema and the stunning Palazzo Madama. So I packed my bag, charged my camera, and set my alarm for 4:00am. I woke with an immense groan, still exhausted from my explorations of Milano just the day before, and dressed quickly. Slinging my backpack – laden with fruit, water, and my camera – I trudged out of my room, my body aching for a coffee, and left the college as quietly as I was able. It was dark outside, and the morning chill pinched my bare legs as I crossed the still-sleeping town to reach Pavia’s train station. Once there, I purchased the ticket for the early train, found my platform, and nibbled a croissant that I had brought with me, wallowing in devastation at the fact that the café wouldn’t open for another hour, by which stage I would be long gone on my journey west.
The train ride was pretty uneventful, until a man seated across from me struck up a conversation as we neared our destination.
“Lei va a Torino?” Are you going to Turin? he asked.
Yes, I told him, and asked if he was too.
He nodded, then expressed excitement and anticipation for “il Papa”. The Pope. According to my fellow passenger, the Pope was visiting Torino. I hadn’t heard anything about it and hence took the news with a grain of salt, joking as we disembarked that “maybe I’ll see him around”.
Stepping foot in Torino, the first thing I did was grab a tourist map and mark out my plan of attack for making the most of my day. Then I set off down the street and as I passed a newsagency, I saw this:
“All of Turin embraces the Pope: welcome to the city of solidarity” and “24 pages for the visit of Pope Francis”. Woah. Looked like the Pope really was in town!
I also found a booklet especially for his visit, with details of his three-day itinerary in the city. I was impressed and mildly interested, but there were no events near my immediate location so I focused on my plan for the day and powered onwards. You wouldn’t know that the Pope was in town – it all looked so tranquil, so casual, nonplussed. I followed my trusty map, turning through the streets and passing people going about their daily business.
And then I heard the chanting. It began low, distant, but as I walked towards my destination, the Mole Antonelliana, I could hear it building. The streets began to thicken with people and police lined the streets. As I approached Via Po, one of the main roads which I needed to cross to reach the Mole, I was blocked by the wall of bodies. I shuffled forward and found an opening to peer through just as a massive cry took hold and everybody waved their hands furiously because oh my goodness there was the Pope in the Pope-mobile and he was waving at us and I was screaming and clapping and cheering along with the crowd, completely lost in the fact that I had stumbled across the Pope. In moments, he was gone, lost in the elation and zeal of the worshippers.
I stepped back, slightly overwhelmed. I had seen the Pope. I had unexpectedly seen the Pope, and just made it in time too. What were the chances!
The crowd struck up a hymn, their strong voices reverberating through the street and I continued on to the Mole, bewitched and buoyant. It was still early morning, but my day had already been made.
I reached the Mole, which is an absolutely amazing piece of architecture – a grand and impressive building which shoots upwards to pierce the sky and tower over the city.
I caught the elevator up, took some photos and was standing looking out over the city when I heard the rumble of a microphone, distant but also distinct. That was when I noticed the piazza near the Po River, Piazza Vittorio Veneto, was literally jam-packed with people. And right at the very end, on a massive stage and hooked up to a microphone, was the Pope. Mass had commenced. I leant forward and strained my eyes to see the tiny white papal figure. It was one of those surreal moments – a pinch-me-now-I’m-dreaming moment, if I’ve ever had one.
I was standing on the top of the Mole Antonelliana in Torino, listening to the Pope deliver Mass in a crammed and spirited piazza next to the Po River. And around me, other tourists gave cries of “il Papa!” and “the Pope!” and not one individual could even feign disinterest.
I stood and watched, straining to listen in, to distinguish the words from the rumble of Pope Francis’ voice. And I knew that being in Torino on this day, of all days, and standing in this exact spot, of all spots, looking over the stunning city, bathed in sunlight, and listening to the words of Pope Francis – that this, this exact moment, was something which I would forever be grateful for.