You heard it right – Steve & I had an audience with the Pope in Rome, Italy this past April, 2011. Well we and a few thousand other visitors had an audience with the Pope. It was a public audience that the Pope has a on a Wednesday morning. What makes it so different from his appearance on Sunday is that he is at ground level, seated under a canopy that is in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, close enough to almost touch him as he is driven through the aisles of the crowd in his Popemobile to his chair on the platform. We were able to get tickets for seats placed just a few dozen yards away from the platform. When he has an audience on a Sunday it is from his office high above the crowd, quite a distance from the people, making the ambience and feeling amongst the crowd quite different.
I was so excited at the thought of having an audience with the Pope that I got up at 5 am to get ready. We didn’t need to be there until 8:30am but we needed to eat a good breakfast. We were ready by 6:30 am and even had all of my photography equipment together ready for this big event. We had a relaxing breakfast in the rooftop restaurant of the hotel, overlooking Rome. In fact, we had a fine view of the Vatican. It wasn’t long before we headed toward the Metro to take us close to Vatican City.
We had to go through security machines like the ones at the airport that were set up at the gates that enter into this special seating area. Security people were everywhere on mobile phones and signaling each other as they prepared for the Pope to arrive. The police and other security people are dressed in designer suits – Armani at that – after all this is Italy. We arrived at the gate, tickets in hand at 8:30 am. We were through the security machines and in our seats by 9:30 am. I say “in our seats” but I really mean at our seats, as it was hard to stay seated with all the excitement around us.
We were only about 15 rows away from where the Pope was to sit. We were like two little kids at Disneyland waiting in line to ride on the biggest and best ride there. Funniest thing is we came all the way to Rome and in the midst of thousands of people attending this audience with the Pope we end up sitting next to a family from the USA. We introduced ourselves to one another and having to wait another hour and a half for the Pope to arrive gave us plenty of time to make friends with them and take a few pictures.
As the seated area began to fill up with people, you could feel the energy and excitement build. Suddenly with a strong breeze lots of black clouds appeared and we all began opening our umbrellas which created a beautiful wave of colour. Fortunately the clouds only dropped a light shower and within minutes it cleared into a brilliant blue sky just as the pope approached. The blue skies lasted for the rest of the day.
All of a sudden we got word that the Pope was on his way through the crowd, driven in his Popemobile. The entire crowd rose out of their seats, some even standing on their chairs to get the first glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI. People began cheering and waving at him and a sea of digital cameras held at arms height filled the whole area.
We were the fortunate few hundred in the seated area able to capture this moment up close but there were also a few thousand people standing in the area behind us filling the square, and still more in the distance on the streets leading up to the square. The Pope was dropped off under the canopy. As he walked towards his chair, he greeted the clergy and was seated. The crowd then sat down in their seats, calmed down a bit, and went quiet waiting to hear the first words from the Pope. He took a few minutes to settle into his chair, then he adjusted his microphone and then looked down at his speech. He is a little frail and moves a bit slow, but considering that he is 83 years old, he presented himself in a beautiful manner. He then began to speak, glancing at his speech and then looking up at the audience. Then we realized that he was speaking in a variety of languages – German, French, Italian and Latin, none of which we understood.
We sat and listened to the entire speech and even though we did not understand the language we seemed to understand his message. He was then given a break and a few of the other clergy men took turns speaking on behalf of the Pope giving greetings to different groups of people from other countries in the crowd. They each spoke in the language of the country – Poland, South America, France, Canada, USA. As each group was mentioned, Pope Benedict outstretched his arm and pointed to acknowledge them and blessed them. Of course this got them applauding and a roar came from their group.
There was a time during the Pope’s speech when he blessed the religious items that people brought with them. I was told about this by a fellow traveller a few days before so I bought some religious items for my Christian friends at home and brought them with me to be blessed by the Pope. Now I can give them their “blessed gifts” on my next visit to California.
This went on for almost two hours. During this time I was clicking away on my camera, changing lenses and towards the end of the ceremony, changing positions to get just the right pictures of the Pope. Over two hundred pictures later I believe that I got some great pictures – ones that captured the feelings of the moment and that will bring back memories to remind us of this very special day.
Steve and I were so taken in by what we had just experienced – it seemed surreal at times – that we were two of the last people to leave the area. We waited until after the Pope was driven in his Popemobile, escorted by his security people, through the thinning crowd, and out of sight, back into the Vatican. The crowd of people had vanished into the surrounding streets of Vatican City. We then began walking away from the Vatican and onto the main street, stopping along the way to look back and realize what we had just experienced.
We were on a high for the rest of the day – in fact the rest of the trip.