Just after I was ordained priest in 1987, four of us friends (including one other priest) went to Rome on holiday. The other priest and I were so amazingly happy to celebrate Mass on the altar at the tomb of St Peter. Sadly, we couldn’t have any photos back then, but my name is etched in the Mass intentions book in the Vatican archives to this day! Along with our passports, we had our celebret, the faculties from our Ordinary (local bishop), saying we were priests of good standing with the right to say Mass on altars of the Latin Church.
The friends could only stay for my first week. So after they left, I headed on the over-night train to Milan (to save a night of hotel fees, as I was skint!) after which I gradually made my way back to Rome, over the next couple of weeks.
When I finally got back to the Eternal City, dressed in clerical collar and grey trousers, carrying my heavy bags, I hopped on the 64 bus from Stazioni Termini to the Vatican. The bus is rather notorious. If you don’t get robbed or pickpocketed on it, then the least you can expect is to see some faces go tutto rosso¸ (all) bright red, as they get groped. In current parlance, this would be considered sexual violence and / or abuse. Back then it was just being groped!
The number 64 was a slender, long, single decker bus with three doors. The front entrance was for people with a pass, to show to the driver or buy a ticket. The middle doors were the exit, the rear doors were for those with a ticket to frank in the nearby machine. I remember reading the sign above my head:
In piedi: 79
Seated 20, standing 79. That’s 99 people on a hot, packed, Roman single-decker bus to the Vatican!
So I got on at the back door to frank my ticket. There were two sisters (nuns) of Mother Theresa of Calcutta’s Order sitting in the single file seats. I placed my bags in the space in front of them. Of course, I greeted them; “Buongirono, Padre” they replied, and I stood upright to hold the over-head hand rail. With that, this man stood next to me, carrying a news paper. Brazenly, in view of the sisters, he held the newspaper in front of my groin area and grabbed my bits! Now whose face went tutto rosso! So I just gyrated my body away from him – but he did it again! So I looked at the nuns – with my glowing red face – and started talking to them, thinking he would leave me alone. That wasn’t his plan, not even when the bus stopped and even more pilgrims piled onto the crowded bus.
In the blink of an eye, there was another man pushed up against me from behind. But this was no mere pilgim squashed into a confined space. He had what I can only describe as an enormous erection – and it was pressed right against my bum! Every time the man in front tried to grab me in the crotch, I would swivel away, only to realises I was rubbing up against this man-truncheon behind me! What was I to do? The poor nuns were no help! So at the very next stop – not my stop at the Vatican, or anywhere near it – I grabbed my bags, said arrivederci to the nuns, pushed through to the exit door, and got off the bus all hot and bothered and in a fluster!
Easter Monday, 17 April, 2017