Patience is a virtue. One that I occasionally possess. This was of those times…
“Monica, wake up! We’re going to be late!” my mother said in a raised voice. I sleepily reached for my phone to check the time. 6 am! “What an ungodly hour to be up! How is this a holiday if I have to wake up at 6am!?” screamed my brain.
The rest is a blur. It is likely that I just went through the motions and somehow got myself dressed and presentable enough. After all, I was off to see the Pope. And one must not be dressed too shabbily for such an occasion.
Today, I turn my focus to the smallest county in the world – Vatican City.
In 2011, my mum and I toured a number of cities in Europe. We started in Barcelona, moved on to Rome, then went on tour of Italy and visited over 10 Italian cities in just 14 days. It was a mad rush and I do not recommend squeezing everything in like we did.
I am of the mindset that one should stay in a city at least a week to begin to get a feel for the soul of the city.
As such I’m really glad we didn’t rush through all of Italy. We spent about 4 nights in Rome and in one of those days, we visited the smallest county in the world – Vatican City.
How small exactly is this city state? 0.44 square kilometres! It has no more than 1000 inhabitants, and of that number, only about 450 have Vatican citizenship.
As you already know we had an early start. We did our research the night before and knew we had to walk to the Roma Termini to catch the bus to the Vatican. Both bus number 64 and 40 would get us there but we spotted the 64 first so we hopped on it and was soon on our way.
My mum and I were relieved to be on the bus but we were also wary. While doing our research, we found out that bus 64 was notorious for pickpockets as many visitors would hop on this bus which connects with Termini station, Piazza Venezia, and Argentina.
Even though I had already gone on a solo trip of my own, travelling in Rome with my mum was a little more daunting. I think it has something to do with the language barrier.
Regardless, we had a rather uneventful bus ride to Vatican City.
After getting off the bus, my mum and I were a little confused. Were we already in Vatican City? Do we need to get our passports stamped now that we’re technically in a new country?
So many questions, so little time. Despite leaving early, we were a little late to meet the tour group at Vatican City. We eventually just followed the crowd and thankfully got to the meeting point and found our guides.
When you first get to St Peter’s Square, forget the photographs, just find a seat right at the barrier where the Pope will drive past. There’ll be plenty of time after the Papal Audience is over. That’s the tip our guide gave us.
Oh and do note that the Papal Audience only occurs on Wednesdays. Check out the schedule here for dates until December 2015.
I don’t know how long we waited in our seats. But it was LONG! I got a bit bored just waiting, but I understood why we had to ‘chope’ our seats so early, eventually. Why? Because we ended up with a fabulous photo opportunity.
How awesome was my spot?
I was sooooo close! The bad part about being so close to the Pope? Every other person behind you will be pushing you against the wooden barriers. And I got elbowed and jabbed a few times too. Yup! The Pope’s a major celebrity okay.
Now if you’re wondering who are those guys in bright red, orange, and blue, well, wonder no more. They’re the Swiss Guard. If not for the guide, I wouldn’t have known that Swiss Guards must all be, well duh, Swiss nationals. Theses Swiss soldiers have been guarding foreign European courts since the late 15th century! The Papal Swiss Guard was founded in 1506 and is the only Swiss Guard still in existence.
Find them way cool and want to be a Swiss Guard. Well, you have to fulfil these requirements first.
- You must be Catholic
- You must be unmarried
- Hold Swiss citizenship
- Completed basic training with the Swiss military
- Can obtain certificates of good conduct
- Have a professional degree or high school diploma
- Aged between 19 and 30
- At least 174 cm (5 ft 8.5 in) tall
In the words of my fun guide, she claimed that they had to be handsome and virgins.
Well, if they are supposed to be unmarried and be morally upright, and seeing that pre-marital sex is frowned upon in the Catholic faith. I can see where she was going with that. But man! That dude is fine…!
Okay back on topic – the Pope.
The rest of the day passed rather slowly. The Pope took his seat at the front and thus began the Papal Audience ceremony in which he delivers his catechises. The Pope took turns to speak in various languages and acknowledged the various pilgrimage groups that were present.
When it was time for the Pope to leave, everyone started to rush to the front just to catch a final glimpse of him on the Pope Mobile again.
This part of the papal audience made me realise how glad I was to have lugged my bulky and heavy telephoto lens to the event. All I had to do was to stand on some abandoned chairs, slow my breathing, and voilà, I got these shots of the Pope leaving without having to squish with everyone else crowding at the front.
After the Pope left, we turned to leave too and saw this! Chaos!
Yup! The venue was a mess! Chairs strewn everywhere. And in the midst of the chaos, we spotted some brides and grooms rushing towards the front.
So we found out from our wonderful guide that newly married couples can actually get blessed by the Pope at the Papal Audience!
If you want to receive a special blessing from the Pope you need to get “sposi novelli” tickets. Basically, all you have to do is to send a request for newly wed tickets and seating to firstname.lastname@example.org. But in order to get these tickets you have to:
- Be married in a Catholic church within two months of the audience they want to attend
- The request must include the name of the church where the wedding took place; the date of the wedding; the name of the priest who married them; and the full name of the bride and groom
- A copy of their certificate of sacramental marriage signed by the officiating priest at their wedding
Bride and grooms can wear their wedding attire to the audience but the women are encouraged to wear a shawl if their dress doesn’t cover their shoulders.
Cool eh? I’ve heard that newly weds also receive a rosary blessed by the Pope as well!
And if you’re wondering, nope, my partner and I won’t be heading to Rome for this. I am actually not a fan of crowds, and rushing about in my wedding gown is not something I’d want to do. Especially since when I get hitched, it’ll be in the height of winter and freezing cold!
After we clear out of the square, we went on to explore the museum and St. Peter’s Basilica at our own pace. When we were ready to leave the tiniest city in the world, we were greeted with this sight.
The square seemed so peaceful. And standing where I was when I took this photo, I realised that this is the view that the Pope had while making his way towards the stage. Wow!
Maybe I would come back to see the Pope again. After all, when I attended this papal audience in 2011, I had met a different Pope, Pope Benedict XVI from Germany. And the current Pope, is Pope Francis. Pope Francis is a Pope of many firsts, he is the first Pope from the Americas, first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first Jesuit Pope. And in all my life as a Catholic, he’s the first Pope that makes me truly interested and intrigued by what he has to say.
What do you think?
Have you attended the papal audience before? Is this something you’d want to go for? Why or why not? Have you seen the Pope in person? What was your experience like?
- How to See the New Pope in Rome (nytimes.com)
- Papal Audience/Blessing (catholicdos.org)
- Newlyweds flock to Rome for papal blessing (catholicnewsagency.com)
- Newlyweds get VIP treatment at the Vatican (cnsblog.wordpress.com)
- Papal Audience Tickets FREE in St. Peter’s Square (papalaudience.org)
- Dark Rome Tours (darkrome.com)
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