I was lucky (read: blessed) to have gotten a ticket for Easter Mass in Vatican City this year (yeah, seriously). I woke up at four a.m., got to St Peter’s Square at five, waited in a mob until seven a.m., then sprinted my way through security to grab front row seats and watch Pope Francis preside over this year’s Mass for an experience of an actual lifetime. The only caveat? It was less than a week after the Brussels bombings, just several hundred miles away.
After a week of mass news coverage of religion-fueled hatred and commentary on terrorism, you could say the atmosphere in St Peter’s Square was tense. 80,000 religious pilgrims brought together in one closed space, which, even with security, let’s be honest, how secure can it be? The metal detectors brought to the site were paltry at best (honestly, any American airport has more sophisticated security measures in place), bag checks were hurried due to the sheer amount of attendees, and the open-air seating allowed for a hard to control area. No, I’m no private security expert, nor do I pretend to be, but looking around at the square, it was easy to see how probable an attack could be. Add that Easter is one of the biggest events on the Christian calendar and much of ISIS’s rhetoric centers around the conquering of the “Crusader’s Rome” and you can start to see why people were so scared.
I had gone with some friends, but once a mob started forming around the entrance gates to St Peter’s Square (where lots of pushing and shoving was happening, and perhaps even stampeding would start), they felt uncertain about continuing. Could we perhaps just go to another Easter Mass at another church in Rome? With so many around, did we have to go to the Vatican?
Of course, we decided to stay. But the atmosphere was tense.
We were blessed in many ways. We got seats in the front ten rows, the Pope came by so close you could practically touch him, the weather was blessedly sunny without a cloud in the sky, and we were sat next to some wonderfully nice people during the service. Most importantly, everyone was safe.
I won’t stop traveling. I won’t stop going to things that I want to do just because of fear of the unknown. Statistically, it’s more probable to die in a car crash in Italy (have you seen how crazy the Italians drive?!) than to be killed in a terrorist attack, or to even be hit in the head by a stray coconut. I joke, but seriously. We cannot live in fear.
To live in fear would mean to miss out on experiences. To live in fear would mean that ISIS wins. It would mean that they control us, and the very idea of these dramatic, stage-like attacks that they perform are meant to frighten us. It’s like a form of mind control. It’s propaganda. They want us to feel unsafe anywhere but in our homes. They want us to stop traveling. They want us to stop learning. They want us to stop expanding our horizons.
Yeah, it’s awful this is happening now, to us. Because we’re college students and we’re young and we’re without obligations to anyone or anything, so it’s our time to see the world and to be absolutely unapologetic about it. It’s hard to sometimes when you’re too scared to board the plane. But I’m telling you: DO IT. What’s waiting for you on the other side is more remarkable and amazing, and you’ll miss out if you let that fear consume you. So if you’re thinking about applying for that study abroad next semester, or going on that amazing school trip, DO IT. Don’t let fear consume you.
Don’t let them win. And, more importantly, don’t let yourself miss out on the best years, and the best experiences, of your life.