VATICAN CITY – On my way to the Vatican press hall this morning, waiting for the crosswalk light to turn green, I was kind of shocked to see a large convoy of black vehicles with U.S. plates and insignia speed by.
Big burly men with flak jackets leaned out of SUVs and scoped pedestrians — I suddenly realized it probably wouldn’t be a very good idea to stick my hand in my bag just then to pull out my sunglasses. So I just squinted in the glare trying to catch a glimpse of who the visiting dignitary might be.
Turns out Lynne Cheney, wife of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, was being escorted away from the Vatican after an unofficial visit to the tomb of St. Peter. The event was planned at the last minute, according to an official at the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office responsible for the upkeep of St. Peter’s Basilica and the vast necropolis below.
The vice president, who has been meeting with Italian officials this week to discuss U.S. concerns over Russia’s actions against Georgia, did not take part in the private tour of the Vatican necropolis.
The second-century subterranean burial ground includes the spot where St. Peter’s tomb has been venerated since early Christian times. For the past decade, the Vatican has been using state-of-the-art techniques to repair, restore and conserve the tombs and funerary artwork.
After making obligatory reservations in writing in advance, most visitors interested in seeing the necropolis have a long wait to get in on a tour. However, exceptions are obviously made for visiting VIPs.
One official at the Fabbrica told me they were quite proud so many high-level government officials and their family members from around the world have come to visit the underground mausoleums and the tomb of St. Peter, adding it was hoped these government leaders “get inspired” by the life and example of the martyr buried there.