Pope Francis was thankfully back in town for the General Audience. He just came from traveling in Asia and the Vatican website never did publicize his schedule for the week. I knew going into it, I may not see the Pope so I was extremely grateful when I did.
Navigating St. Peter’s Square is interesting. You come in with the crowd – someone told me you had to arrive three hours early to be there first – and go through what closely resembles, airport security with the Genderme (Italian police). Here is where they reserve the right to check for your Golden Ticket. They never checked as far as I could tell. The rain may have had something to do with that. They didn’t anticipate it being too packed with everyone so wet.
There was still a large crowd though. I got this shot after the rain stopped as everyone was leaving:
Literally, people as far as the eye could see.
I arrived an hour and a half before it started and was able to get a pretty decent seat in the second section, about fourth row from the steps. Perhaps if I had realized how good the Vatican is at corralling humans, I may have gotten in the front section.
When you walk in, you enter the seating area and make your way to the front. What you don’t see, or at least what I didn’t see, is that the seating area is made up of several smaller areas each closed by fence-like barricades. So even if there are seats closer up, you must backtrack a couple dozen rows or more just to get out of your current barricade. My advice: go as far as you can to the front before entering any section. Just keep going until you think you are as close to the steps as possible. I also tried to get close to the center. Don’t do that. When Pope Francis is finished he makes ‘laps’ in his Popemobile. Your only chance to see him *if* he comes to your side is if you are as far as you can get towards the outside.
The Wednesday General Audience is basically a time for Pope Francis to convey whatever message he feels people need at the moment or to deliver a great teaching, etc. This is done through a series of those messages being read both by him in a handful of languages and by a bishop in what seemed like every other possible language.
Jet lag: Even the Pope gets it.
Message by Pope Francis and by Pope Francis via a bishop.
Afterwards, everyone gets a blessing from Pope Francis. A BLESSING FROM THE POPE!!! As a Catholic, this is a VERY big deal. It was super exciting!!!! If you have any religious articles at this time, you hold them up and then those are also blessed by the Pope. (supreme bragging rights)
Praying and then the blessing.
Then Pope Francis greets all of his Bishops and a few Cardinals if I am seeing the colors correctly.
Bishops are in pink, Cardinals in red.
It was an amazing experience. Everyone should make this trip at least once in their lifetimes.