Sunday, June 1, 2014

Viva, Papa Francesco!

It had rained the night before as if to clear the day at its tail.  It was Wednesday in Rome and the sky was clear and blue.  It was our final day in Rome and we couldn't leave without seeing The Man of the Hour, Papa Francesco.  It so happened that on Wednesdays, the Pope makes a public appearance at St. Peter's Square, drives around on his pope mobile and proceeds to give blessings and prayers afterwards.  

After having our morning cappuccino, we crossed the St. Angelo bridge from Rome and into the Vatican, the smallest country in the world and political and religious capital of Catholicism.  From where our apartment is in the Pantheon neighborhood, it was a mere fifteen minute pleasant walk.  
St. Peter's Basilica as seen from St. Angelo Bridge
The general Papal audience starts at 10:30 am on Wednesdays when the Pope is in town.  We were advised to be there three hours prior to get as close to the podium as possible.  We have had a manic couple days in Rome and we were content to see him drive by so we took our time and arrived at around 9 am.  
There was already thousands of pilgrims who, like us, have come from different corners of the globe.  It is no surprise, however, that Argentina was well represented.  Children of all ages and nationalities were in attendance and I admire their tenacity to muscle through crowds and wait around for hours for a chance to catch a glimpse of Papa Francesco.  
I cannot say that I have not been disillusioned with the church for a while now.  The intent of religion is love, compassion, and selflessness, yet every time I hear hatred spewed towards gays and minorities, every time I hear about molestation scandals committed by priests, I die inside.  I cannot reconcile all this hatred, righteousness, condemnation, and judgment with the Christ I choose to know.  How did religion become so hateful?

If the pope is meant to be the direct successor of Jesus, those are terribly big shoes to fill.  But Pope Francis, by leading with actions instead of grandiosity, is quickly winning me over.  Months ago, a group of young Belgian students had asked for a private audience with him so they can meet him and ask him their questions.  The Vatican responded positively, and these young people got to sit with and have a conversation with the Pope.  It was rad.  This week, at the invitation of the Pope, the leaders of Israel and Palestine will meet in Vatican to pray for peace.  It is a miracle that both polarized parties agreed to it.

And that is why I did not hesitate for a second to see the Pope, THIS Pope, crowds notwithstanding.  We muscled through thousands to catch a glimpse of him in person and stood (uncomfortably at times) for a couple of hours of prayers because he is a person of inspiration and of character.  The best part is, I like him even if he wasn't the Pope.  Irrespective of faith or religion, he is a man worth emulating.

After the prayers were over, we started to walk back towards Rome.  I felt light.  There was not a cloud in the sky, everyone in the crowd was smiling.  There was a large group of young Italian children doing a passionate chant-off (they're little Italians, after all).  They were giving it all they've got even though they know their voices will not carry one mile away.  "Pa-pa Fran-cesco!  Pa-pa Fran-cesco!  Pa-pa Fran-cesco" over and over.  My little heart chanted with them.

There is a General Papal Audience every Wednesdays at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican.  Tickets are free, but you need to reserve them weeks in advance.  We got our tickets from Santa Susanna, the American church in Rome.  All you need to do is fill in a form online at here.  Because of the volume of requests, do not expect an email confirmation (although we did get one a week before our arrival).  It is assumed that if you request weeks in advance, you'll get tickets.  

A special note: you need to go to Santa Susanna parish office between 5pm-6pm the Tuesday before.  The office is NOT in the Vatican; it is in Rome.  Plan accordingly!

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