Rome is home to countless treasures. From artistic masterpieces to religious monuments and historical wonders to culinary delights, the Eternal City offers an endless list of experiences for travelers.
In spite of many previous visits to Rome, one event that I had not participated in is the Papal Audience and in June, I had the opportunity to attend.
Pope Francis, like his predecessors, holds a general audience weekly in St. Peter’s Square. Each Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., the Pope rides through the crowded square in the “Pope mobile” — stopping often to kiss babies, shake hands with his followers, and have his picture taken, all before presiding over an hour-long multi-lingual service.
During warmer months, the audience is held outdoors in St. Peter’s Square. During colder seasons, the ceremony is held indoors in the Paul VI Audience Hall. You may recognize the building as it is where the Vatican Christmas concert and other Papal events are held.
The Audience with the Pope consists of small teachings and readings, given in Italian by his Holiness, and translated into several other languages by attending clergymen. The Pope’s teachings are translated into English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, and others, depending on which groups are visiting. Towards the end of the session, the Pope will invite everyone to pray together, the Our Father prayer in Latin, which is printed on the back of each ticket.
If I could assign three words to describe my experience, they would be planning, anticipation and excitement.
If you are planning a trip to Rome and are thinking about attending the Audience, you will definitely have to plan ahead.
A Few Tips on Attending the Papal Audience
- In order to attend the Audience, you must have an entrance ticket, which are free. Tickets can be picked up from the ticket office located just inside the Bronze Door (by the right colonnade of St. Peter’s Square) between 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. on the day preceding the audience (Tuesday), or from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. the morning of the audience.
- Arrive early. The line starts to form at 7 a.m. or earlier, so the sooner you arrive the better. The doors open around 7:30 a.m., and all seats are on a first come first serve basis.
- Please note the Square can hold 10,000 guests but there is seating for only 2,000.
- Select a seat close to the aisle or beginning of a row. When held indoors, the Pope enters through the back of the auditorium and walks down the center aisle.
- You will have to pass through a metal detector prior to entering. Food, beverages, phones and cameras are permitted.
- During the summer months, a hat, umbrella, sunscreen and water are a must, as it gets very hot.
- If you would like to have a rosary, medallion, or other religious item blessed by the Pope, you are able to bring it. Pope Francis closes each General Audience with an Apostolic Blessing.
Since you arrive three to three and a half hours prior to the event, this allows you time to scope out the attendees and your surroundings. Having selected a seat in the middle of the Square and in the first row, I had an excellent view of the masses scurrying for seats. I was surprised to see the myriad of groups, from the various orders of priests and nuns, pilgrimages from all over South America, and even students represented by various colleges and universities.
Nuns from the Phillipines.
Pilgrimage from the Marche Region of Italy.
Another group that was well represented were newlyweds. Couples who have been wed within two months are seated in a special section. You will have to show your marriage certificate to security in order to be seated in the VIP area. It was quite a sight to see the various brides and grooms in their wedding attire from all over the world.
The atmosphere was quite festive with friendly rivalries building among the audience especially between the university students. The colorful banners, flags and costumes added to the celebration. It reminded me of the anticipation before a sporting event like an international soccer match.
I was mesmerized by the Swiss Guard that were scattered among the Square. The Swiss Guard, who are the modern body guards to the Pope, stood out in their dress uniforms of blue, red, orange and yellow. These bodyguards are equipped with traditional weapons, such as the halberd, as well as with the modern firearms. In order to be recruited into this elite class, guards must be unmarried Swiss Catholic males between the ages of 19 and 30 who have competed basic training with the Swiss Armed Forces.
I have to admit I was concerned about the wait time prior to arriving and actually brought a book to read, but believe me I never opened the book since there was so much to see! As 10:30 a.m. approached, the crowd and I grew very enthusiastic and eager to see the main event.
It is difficult not to get swept up by the excitement of attending a papal audience regardless of your faith.
When Pope Francis entered the square; he appeared as a little white dot emerging in a sea of black suits from the left side of St. Peter’s Basilica, waving happily from the Pope mobile.
The only way to describe the reactions of the crowd when Pope Francis appeared is pure exuberation. The Square erupted in shouts of “Papa Francesco”. From my vantage point in the front I watched as Pope Francis rode around and waves of people moved quickly from one side of the square to the other to get close shots of him. People were standing on their chairs trying to get the best possible view of Pope Francis as he kissed babies and greeted pilgrims.
It was quite moving as I observed a woman from Chile bawl unabashedly when Pope Francis approached. Many of the pilgrims likely saved their entire lives to see the Pope in person. As the Pope approached my area, a man offered the Pope an iced latte and unbelievably he drank some to the laughter of the crowd.
My recommendation is that if you want to experience a truly unique event while in Rome then attend the Papal Audience. Not only did it provide a powerful observation of devoted faith but also comic relief. Now when I hear that Papa Francesco is the ‘”People’s Pope”, I truly understand the meaning.
Frontiers Elegant Journeys division can assist with your entire Italian holiday including facilitating Papal Audience ticketing.