How to Visit the Pope in Rome
“Are there any tickets to see the Pope in St. Peter’s Square tomorrow?”
With a quick nod, the Swiss Guard walked back to his booth and reappeared carrying two blue tickets to the Pope’s Wednesday morning “audience” in St. Peter’s Square. Perfect.
We hadn’t planned on spending the next morning surrounded by thousands of people in front of the Basilica, but when in Rome…
Our plans for arriving early and getting a seat close to the Pope didn’t pan out. When we arrived at 9:00 (first mistake), the entrance to the fenced seating area was a rugby scrum of disinterested policemen and blue-ticket-holding hopefuls. We didn’t know this at the time, but having tickets in hand doesn’t guarantee seats. The policemen waved us off and directed us to the general standing area. Sad day.
We joined school kids and harried looking teachers, tour groups with matching neon hats, hordes of enthusiastic Brazilian fans waving Papa-bedecked flags, nuns, priests and thousands of others standing in the Square. Luckily, we brought sunscreen, water, and loads of patience.
The people watching was fabulous and the hour wait passed quickly.
At last, the sound of happy chanting rose into the air and floated over the crowd as the Jumbotrons flickered to life just in time to catch Papa Francesco zooming around the corner in the Popemobile.
We were suddenly in the middle of a monumental, spirit-filled wave of sound and emotion as the Pope drove into view. Small children were hoisted onto adult shoulders, babies were passed to the front of the crowd. Nanas were overcome with emotion.
The Popemobile slowed to a halt for blessings, baby ops and quick conversations. It was amazing to watch this man interact with the crowd.
Eventually, after multiple stops, he made his way to the front of the Square to prepare for Mass.
After 1 1/2 hours of prayers, blessings, and announcements in multiple languages, it was over. The Jumbotron flickered back to blank screen status and people slowly trickled out of the Square. The Pope stayed close to the front of the square for over an hour and we were curious to see why.
We walked against the flow of exiting people to the front of the Square. I couldn’t see the Pope at first and was puzzled by dozens of people standing on chairs nearby. We picked the sturdiest chair, hopped up and saw the Pope, meeting and comforting the rows of elderly and disabled individuals seated in the front row of the Square.
He seemed to thoroughly enjoy each encounter and spent over an hour with that group before turning back to others waiting for him on the podium…brides and grooms, visiting dignitaries and other important visitors.
Despite our poor planning, not being Catholic, the hot sun and huge crowds, it was fun to take part in such joyous mayhem. Who could resist the allure of compassionate Papa Francesco (Pope Francis)?
Fun Facts about Papa Francesco…
*Held jobs as a nightclub bouncer, a chemistry lab assistant and a janitor.
*Speaks three languages fluently (Italian, German, Spanish) and dabbles in a few others (English, French, Portuguese and Piedmontaise).
*Sneaks out of the Vatican at night, dressed as a regular priest to meet with Rome’s homeless men and women.
*Has over 4 million twitter followers, @Pontifex
*Drives a 30-year-old Renault 4 and flies economy class.
*Has Masters degrees in Chemistry, Philosophy, and Theology.
*Owned a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, gifted to him (and inscribed with Francesco) after blessing Harley-Davidson owners and their bikes. He auctioned the bike and donated the resulting $327,000 to a soup kitchen.
*Doesn’t live in the lush Papal apartments, but in a nearby guesthouse, Casa Santa Marta.
*Graced the January 27th cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Yes, Papa was on Rolling Stone.
Things to Know about Visiting the Pope
Tickets are FREE. If you need fewer than 6 tickets, you can ask the Swiss Guards that stand near the Bronze doors or near the bottom of the left-hand side of the Basilica steps. Tickets are available up to 3 days in advance. Alternately, you can contact the Papal Household by following the advice here.
Tickets in hand don’t necessarily correlate with having a seat in the reserved area. Seating opens at 8 and it’s best to show up to St. Peter’s Square no later than 8:30. The earlier you are, the closer you will be to the front. There are reserved areas for visiting dignitaries and other important guests near or on the podium. VIP tickets can sometimes be arranged through your local parish or by contacting the Vatican directly (see above link).
Be prepared to wait in all weather. Sunscreen, hats, water, snacks and things to keep yourself occupied while you wait.
Allow extra time for the mandatory security check as you enter the Square.
The schedule for Wednesday Audience varies according to time of year and weather. In case of inclement weather, the audience is divided into smaller groups and sent into either the Basilica or the Audience Hall. Audience is not usually held in August. Check the calendar before you make plans.
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