To celebrate the season, I’m sharing clips, extras, and behind-the-scenes notes from Rick Steves’ European Christmas.
A highlight for our crew was filming the Midnight Mass at the Vatican on Christmas Eve in 2004 — which happened to be Pope John Paul II’s last Christmas. The vast basilica was packed, the pope seemed radiant, and our cameraman put our viewers right in the front pew.
The Vatican is generally a very difficult place for visiting film crews to get permission to do anything. But for some reason, their welcome warmed at Christmas, and we found ourselves with a prime spot in the center of St. Peters — midway up the central pilaster, under Michelangelo’s magnificent dome, with a front-balcony perch to catch the action.
What you didn’t see was 10,000 worshipers tumbling out of St. Peter’s at about 1:00 in the morning in the rain. Our crew, about the last people to leave the basilica, couldn’t find a taxi, and had to slog through Rome for an hour laden with all their gear to get back to their hotel.
Here’s just a bit more of Pope John Paul II’s final Christmas Mass.