(Editor's note: The A-J published this story on Oct. 15, 2001. It is the first in a series of stories by A-J Religion Editor Beth Pratt, who spent a week in Rome accompanying the Rev. Malcolm Neyland and several journalists who visited the Vatican Museums as preparations are made to send 31 medieval frescoes to Lubbock for display in June 2002.)
ROME -- Sunday morning Mass at the main altar inside St. Peter's Basilica is a crowded but sacred experience as people from many countries congregate for worship.
Some were dressed in their Sunday best, complete with high heels for women and ties for men. Others were more casually dressed, with walking shoes to carry them through a day of sightseeing that begins in Vatican City.
But all were intent on worship in a city that once worshiped many gods and goddesses but for centuries has been the citadel of Christianity.
On Sunday at St. Peter's, a prayer was said for health workers and researchers 'that their skills always be given as service to God.'
The seating area in front of the altar filled early. Late-comers pressed in behind, some on tiptoes, to get an occasional glimpse of the officiating priest.
However, the sound was excellent, and most seemed unhindered even when their view was primarily the backs of taller worshippers.
Toward the end of the hour-long service, the heat generated by so many people standing close together began to melt the resolve of a few, who slipped out to get fresh air.
Outside, St. Peter's Square was filling.
The crowd gathered to hear Pope John Paul II officiate at the noon Mass from a window above the square. His voice, weakened by Parkinson's disease, was clearly heard through a system of well-placed speakers.
For the outdoor worshippers, October delivered sunny, golden weather that calls only for a light sweater or jacket in the morning or evening.
Saturday morning, the vast Vatican museum complex had a line that wound, three or four people deep, around three sides of the city block.
People of all ages and nationalities waited to see the art treasures contained in the 13 Vatican museums.
Lines to get into the museum are always long, said the Rev. Malcolm Neyland, in Rome to complete arrangements for shipping frescoes to Lubbock.
The Catholic Diocese of Lubbock and the Museum of Texas Tech are co-sponsoring the unique experiment in bringing treasures from the Vatican to a missionary diocese in West Texas.
A private showing of "Traditions and Renewal: Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums," will be displayed June 1, 2002, at the Museum of Texas
Tech. The following day the exhibit will open to the public.
Free tickets, for specific dates and times of day, can be reserved by calling 742-6800 or, toll free, long distance at (866) 803-6873.
Museum officials are recording the date and time requests are made, and will mail tickets after Jan. 1 to those with reservations.