I was going to wait on this post until I had faster internet upload speeds, so I could do all the videos, but given some mean comments about this that I’ve been reading, I figured I needed to put my voice out there. Long story short, due to my connection with Daily Theology, I was given a press pass for this event, and thus was able to sit close enough, and have some leg room, so I could type some reflections while the event was happening. This blog post is comprised of those reflections, with still images (shot by me, so not super high quality) of the moments I describe.
It begins with me finally finding a seat just a few minutes before the show began.
“Ok, so I made it a front row seat to the light show, booting up in 6 minutes. I’m a part of the press for the first time, for sure. Weather is nice out, well, for a jacket. Its not raining, however, which is a large improvement on the morning. A crowd of 60 children and adults from the United States clearly knew someone important, and are clustered in front of the press section.
It’s a strange thing, being surrounding by different languages constantly. Sometimes its exciting, feeling like I’m in a new place, a world with possibilities–but only now that I’ve passed through all the security checkpoints and made it to the section for journalists! I didn’t have a press pass, just my name on a list, which caused me some problems with the Vatican police. Not the Swiss Guard…I don’t think there’s enough of them for this task–but the Roman police who run security for St. Peter’s Square.
One minute until theoretical ignition. Nice thing about being in the press section is that there are tons of empty seats. All around me, really. But people are still coming.
The show begins with the official stamp of the year, with the words, “Mercy as the Father” above the image. The words refer to the scripture passage, “be merciful, as the heavenly father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). St. Peter’s dome itself is a golden yellow. We wait, and the children are restless in front of me. Thankfully, about a dozen rows.
Two minutes in, the insignia remains front and center, the dome golden and yellow. If I had a European smartphone, I could be tweeting all this, but I don’t. So there it is!
The seats next to me have now filled up and people are tweeting the image. My twitter account is feeling jealous!
Four minutes in, and the image remains. A glitch in the system? Five minutes now….Seven.
Its an interesting question, being merciful and running an international organization as the Pope does. His signs of mercy are calls for state leaders to take action, while taking individual actions himself. But to whom are we supposed to show mercy?
The lights are off now, fully. 8 minutes in and here we go…
[Side note: The show opens with clouds, music, and a sunrise on St. Peter’s facade. The moon follows the sun, which then is followed by rows of candles being lit. Lots of liturgical artistry coming through..]
Ok, I have to stop recording for a moment to describe how awesome this is. I’ve never seen anything like it. The detail, the sounds…light is breaking from the windows, doves flying out at the crowds. I’ll go back to recording now!
The show is a series of one minute vignettes. Candles, water pouring, now a jungle scene. Still images of jungle animals with jungle sounds in the background. Butterflies fly towards St. Peter’s dome.
Another vignette begins, people. Faces in the windows of St. Peters’. The artists work beautifully within the natural architecture of the great Church.
The first quarter is done, finishing with a great flourish of doves and light…the holy spirit, no doubt, stemming from the basilica. Quiet and darkness and they prepare, I assume, the next portion of the program. Grumblings from the speakers…ah, intentional grumblings…animals. Animal calls from the wild.
The second section, which we’re now in, is largely still images of animals, marvelously projected with their calls echoing across St. Peter’s from the speakers. For a city with very little green space, this is a breath of fresh air for someone from the American midwest. A lobster floats across the screen. Seahorse. Turtles.
New phase now. No, same phase. These artists really love the big cats! Lots of tigers and lions and other cats thus far. Bald eagle…american shout-out happening.
It is a witness, I think, to the variety of life. To experience the variety of existence in a stone-filled ancient ground that has not seen natural growth in six centuries…it is something historic.
Ok, people, we just moved through the dog family (with lots of ooh and aahs for the puppies), and now a ferocious sea lion walked through us. Butterflies! We have butterflies! Short lived.
Each section is split with an interlude of sorts. Lights streaming across the façade. A sloth, ape. The animal sounds range from ferocious to tame, accompanied by “realistic” background jungle noise (I don’t actually know if its realistic or not). Still on still shots of animals now. The vast expanse of life continues, drawing us in.
Lol. The animals sounds have gathered a lot of birds around St Peter’s. A hawk circles, seagulls fly overhead in a flock. The sounds are loud! Clearly the hawk was looking for one of those birds to eat!
The next stage has been going for a few minutes, and it is gorgeous. Full videos of animals, forests from around the world. Elephants, prairie gods. The usage of the façade amazes me. It’s logical, I suppose, but unprecedented…that something so new could occur on something so ancient. Absolutely stunning.
Ok, polar bears now, in the antarctic. The ice is melting…humans…humans…
Humans effect on the world. Cars, houses, trash. Buildings, cities.
But then humans do things positively too. Planting a tree, daughter and father. Working the farms. Sun rises again, we are in the sky. Way up in the sky..fades into full white. And out.
A beautiful segment…probably 8 minutes long in total, maybe less, starting with polar bears and melting ice and going to the possibilities of a new future after rampant human devaluation of life and earth.
New section begins.
This section has no sound. Images of people in poverty, or working, around the world, largely dark skinned. The basilica bells toll, telling us its a quarter till eight.
The juxtaposition of the privilege of watching this amazing piece of artwork and the people on the screen is not lost on me.
The next series of images, again silent, are harsh. Not violent, but stark. Rocky landscapes, fights among animals. A single tree. A cliff face. A struggle in carrying a load. Indigenous tribes come now, pictures upon picture, the devastation, the reminder of the past.
Animals evoke a different feeling now, hidden in their landscapes. It is harder to see them amidst the forests and surroundings. The indigenous peoples fade away, and the starkness of creation comes back in.
A herd of wildebeests running, silent. Elephant’s shadow. A leopard, waiting, a quiet scene. Everything quiet.
When are we coming back from this desolation? The images, beautiful, now light up the façade one after another. And now quiet, and 5 till. No more deserts. I anticipate life. I yearn for life.
[If you’ve seen those youtube videos of flowers opening quickly, that’s whats going on here. Lots of flowers opening, with lots of sounds and music.]
Flowers, budding, blooming, the possibilities of tomorrow! The butterfly arrives!
Must be nearly finished now. After a sea video sequence, we’re into still images of sea creatures. The mood is still somber, but hopeful. See the variety of the world. See the marvelous things unknown, that we do not know and may unwittingly harm. See the oceans, full of beauty and life the likes of which we cannot imagine.
The tip of the dome shines now, a bright white on each image. Nemo ends it for us.
A quiet ending, I suppose. No fanfare, no shot of Francis smiling, no explosions. Just life.
Beautiful, beautiful life.”