The Vatican press office and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, in the hopes of satisfying everyone's curiosity, offered journalists a rare glimpse into Vatican City State and the areas pertinent to this momentous occasion in the Church's history.
Entering Vatican City State through the Petriano Gate, one passes from the noise of cars, motorcycles and ambulances to peace and quiet. It's difficult to remember that the seat of the Roman Catholic Church is located in the heart of Rome's bustling streets. Upon going down the road behind St. Peter's Basilica, the first thing one notices is the relative calm, tranquility and above all, silence, which is quite difficult to find in the center of Rome.
It is an ambiance that echoes the mission of the Church in the World: tranquility in the midst of chaos, peace in the face of tribulation, the presence of God in the world of man.
Casa Santa Marta
The first stop in the tour was the Casa Santa Marta where cardinals participating in the conclave will reside. The modern edifice is a far cry from the living quarters of the 1978 conclave that resulted in the election of Blessed John Paul II.
Cardinals at the time were housed in a cramped building near the Sistine Chapel. Several years before his death, Pope John Paul II ordered the construction of Casa Santa Marta, a modern building that offers the cardinals a more relaxed atmosphere for their most important duty in the Church.
The building is also fitted with an electromagnetic cap. The cap cuts off all cellular network signals to prevent contact with the outside world, which is strictly prohibited during the period of the conclave. The building is within walking distance of where the prelates will vote for the new pontiff. The road is also used during visits by dignitaries; the cardinals will walk from Casa Santa Marta and pass through several archways and courtyards, before reaching the Sistine Chapel.
Palazzo del Governatorato
Traveling up toward the Vatican Gardens we find the Palazzo del Governatorato, which is where the administrative offices of the territory of Vatican City State are located.
The Palazzo, which was built in the 1800s, served as a guesthouse for kings and dignitaries who would stay there during visits. After the Lateran Treaty in 1929, the building was repurposed as the seat of governance of Vatican City State.
Santa Maria Mater Ecclesia Monastery
After the Holy Father's announcement, Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, announced that upon his resignation, Pope Benedict XVI will live a life of 'prayer and reflection' in a monastery located within Vatican City.
While the area is off limits to visiting tourists, the Vatican offered journalists a rare glimpse of the monastery where Pope Benedict XVI will reside. Located near the main headquarters of Vatican Radio, the monastery is a tranquil area with a breathtaking view of Rome and the cupola of St. Peter's Basilica.
The Santa Maria Mater Ecclesia Monastery once housed 8 cloistered nuns from 8 different nations. Now vacated, workers are busily working to prepare the building for the soon to be retired Pontiff. Surrounded by pathways and gardens, Benedict XVI will have an ample, quiet area where he can truly dedicate himself to 'prayer and reflection.'
Grotto of Lourdes
Further down from Benedict XVI's future residence is the grotto of Lourdes, a replica of the area where Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. The Holy Father has a particular fondness for this area located some yards from the Apostolic Palace. The Pope, accompanied by his secretary, would go almost daily to the Grotto of Lourdes to pray the rosary.
Interestingly enough, the Holy Father announced his resignation on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Despite knowing full well the personal attacks he would face, Pope Benedict XVI resigned out of love for the faithful. One cannot help but recall the words of Our Lady of Lourdes to St. Bernadette on February 15, 1858, which surely comfort the Holy Father in this time: "I promise to make you happy, not in this world, but in the next."
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