I might just be the envy of many of my friends. It's not every day that one gets to see the Pope in person, in Rome.
My husband and I began planning a week long trip to Italy several months ago. This time, we were going to be completely on our own. I researched activities on-line, and would throw out different ideas to David. A papal audience is held every Wednesday in St. Peter's Square, but tickets are required to enter. Tickets are difficult to secure, because requests are received from all over the world.It must have been divine intervention. I got a call from the Sentinel office early on the morning of September 27, asking if I could be present for the Catholic Charities Rural Life Board meeting in Ottawa at 10 a.m. It was a special event, because Bishop Leonard Blair was going to be present.
On my way out the door, my husband joked, "Why don't you ask the Bishop if he could get us tickets to see the Pope?"
So I did.
I explained to the Bishop that we are not Catholic; he said that was not a problem. He said he would write an e-mail to the Vatican. He was more than happy to give me the phone number to his office so we could check on the progress of the tickets.
I called the Diocese office on Monday, and spoke to Lisa Knopp. She said she had sent the Bishop's e-mail off, and would keep us abreast of any developments. On October 7, Lisa e-mailed to say the Vatican had approved our request for tickets. We were given explicit instructions as to where we needed to go to pick up the tickets, the day prior to the general audience, at The Pontifical North American College, near Trevi Fountain. We would also get a "full orientation about what to expect at the Papal audience." Once in Rome, we located the Pontifical North American College without difficulty. Sister Benedicta provided us with the tickets. She said we should arrive at St. Peter's Square at 7:30 am, when the gates open, for the 10:30 am service. She suggested we enter the gate to the left of St. Peter's Square, and locate seats that were as near to the white-curtained aisles as possible. Sister said the Popemobile (her words, not mine) would pass down the aisles prior to the service, and that would give us the best view point for taking photos of the Holy Father. The only dress code restrictions were that we could not wear shorts or short skirts, and had to have our shoulders covered- no problem there! She warned us it would be crowded, approximately 50,000 pilgrims, but not as many that are present during the busier tourist season (60,000).
It was a cloudy morning when we arrived via taxi at 7:30 down the street from Piazza San Pietro, St. Peter's Square, at 7:30. A mob of people was already present. A procession of young people, dressed in medieval costumes, was playing herald trumpets and drums, and slowly wound its way through the crowd. Vendors were hawking paper flags with Pope Frances' photo, as well as small laminated cards, complete with a medal, which said in Italian, "All the people that will bring this medal will receive great graces." Once inside the gates, we got seats as close to the curtained aisles as possible, six rows from the middle. Then we waited. Aides, in several different languages, welcomed groups who cheered wildly when their names were announced. It looked as though every chair in the square was filled, and more stood around the perimeter of the gates. Many people had brought their own small, tri-fold chairs, and had plunked them down in any available space.
The clouds moved out, and it was a beautiful, sunny day when Pope Francis began his rounds of the pilgrims in the Popemobile, around 10 a.m. People began pushing and shoving, jockeying for a position to get close to His Holiness. I had a list I was going to hand him, if I got close enough, of people from back home who had said, "Tell the Pope to pray for me." Needless to say, I didn't get that close.
We were able to watch the Popemobile on four gigantic television monitors, so we could tell when he was getting close to us. I stood on my chair (everyone around us was over six foot tall) with the camera, and David was armed with the iPad. We snapped away, hoping for at least one good photo. It seemed that every time I focused in on the Pope, someone's arm, head, or other body part would get in the way, making my lens go out of focus. I was able to get one good photo of the fifty or so I attempted.
People passed babies and small children to the Pope, so he could kiss and bless them. He seemed to love this; his smile was genuine and he patiently conversed with those who were fortunate enough to get close to him. The general audience began promptly at 10:30. Aides read a passage from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans, in several different languages. Pope Frances delivered his homily in Italian, and again, it was translated in several different languages. When he greeted the English-speaking people present and gave his blessing in Italian, I held up my list, which included "all the good people of Ottawa and Glandorf, Ohio, USA" so they, too, could be blessed.
Pope Francis' blessing, which an aide translated, was, "I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience, including those from England, Wales, Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Vietnam and the United States. Upon all of you, and your families, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace!"