by Kleitia Vaso

In my personal life, the visit of the Pope to Albania followed a string of stories about friends arguing about petty details or close people debating about petty injustices and re-meetings with important people after long absences, all of which created an emotionally-charged atmosphere. I have to admit that despite a complete absence of religious inclination and experience, I was at certain moments ready to cry, in the same way that a child cries to release an unnameable weight, at the fantasy of what the moment of the Pope addressing the crowd would be like. I and, I’m certain, many others were waiting to feel something, perhaps an irrational sense of unity, a voluntary and momentary submission to the power of a stronger presence manifested through this man, or any other great indescribable emotion. I went to see him despite the fact that the first moment of becoming one with a large crowd triggers the image of wild horses running towards me. I wanted to see, above all, if someone appointed as a spiritual leader of a particular faith had an extraordinary amount of charisma, a superhuman understanding of the crowd’s emotions, and knowledge on how to direct it, for better or worse.

The actual experience was not that powerful; indeed, it was a ceremony like most others with people going through pre-prepared steps, giving forgettable speeches. My expectations of the event and how it actually turned out illustrate how much I understand reality, religion, and ceremonies. Not much. It wasn’t an entirely ordinary day but I definitely became more emotional anticipating the experience than living it.

Although the crowd was generally well-behaved, I noticed several instances of people showing their irritation as a result of excessive closeness and the unspoken but perceptible competition of being closer to the main character or, at least, getting a good look of him. I have to mercilessly include myself in this group as I got visibly and vocally irritated at a group of foreign women who spoke over the Pope’s speech. And, while looking at that barely-in-control crowd, I had glimpses of people transforming into different animals in front of my eyes and thought that a fine line separates us from being a herd of wild horses or even less noble animals. As the Pope spoke about mercy for each other – an abstract and somewhat unnatural concept – I realized that this always looming other side of the line, the jungle, is the impetus which creates and gives such power to this man and religious institutions. We create and half-believe vague words like peace and mercy, so often against our instinctual nature and unsupported by our history because, otherwise, we might tear each other apart.

by Kleitia Vaso