Every Wednesday morning that the pope is in Rome, there is a “papal audience,” where visitors and Catholic pilgrims can come see the pope. Papal audiences are held outside of St. Peter’s Basilica and are a sort of “mini mass,” with prayers, readings from the bible, a homily, and a blessing from the pope (when I was there, the words of the pope were repeated in seven different languages!). The event is free, but you have to get a ticket in advance because it can get extremely crowded, with thousands of attendees.
I was raised Catholic, attending mass every Sunday. Although I no longer practice the religion, I found the papal audience to be an incredibly exciting experience. It felt like I was at a sporting event. Before the pope made his appearance, there were many groups of students and religious pilgrims that were announced over the loudspeaker. The groups would cheer, chant, and even wave flags in the air after hearing their names. There were people holding up signs, which included messages to the pope and the names of the groups with which they came to the papal audience. When Pope Francis (or as the Italians say, Papa Francesco) finally made an appearance, the crowd went nuts. People cheered and stood on their chairs, trying to catch a glimpse and a picture of the pope as he made a lap around the crowd in his “Popemobile.” The people nearest the edges would hold out their babies, in the hopes that the pope would stop and bless them.
I feel as though Catholics often get a bad rap for being extremely conservative and unaccepting of those who do not follow the principles of the Catholic faith. The Pope, although not directly reforming the laws of the Catholic church, is reforming its outlook. Instead of condemning those who do not follow the laws, Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of acceptance and respect. When addressing the issue of gays within the church, he said, “Who am I to judge?” One of the core values of Christianity is love: to love even your enemies, because they are all the children of God. Regardless of whether or not you are a member of the Catholic faith, the pope is an important world leader. He preaches values which are applicable to all humans, regardless of their beliefs. I think what made the papal audience such an exciting event was simply being in the presence of such an important, inspirational figure.