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Papal Presence

[14th March 2013]

The Catholic world was blessed with a new pope last night.  Pope Francis 1, the 266th pontiff, urged the world to follow a path of peace and fraternity and asked that we pray for him.  The appointment of the pope took me back to the one and only day I saw a pope.

List of Popes - Vatican Tablet

All the Popes – list, St Peter’s

It was Wednesday the 25th September 2002.  I was in Rome.  The pope gives a general audience every Wednesday on St Peter’s Square.  You don’t want to go to Rome and not see the pope.  So we gave ourselves ample time to get from our hotel to the Vatican.  We got to the metro station.  There was a general transport strike on the go.  No metro all day. Rome congested to a standstill, a taxi would never get anyone to the Vatican on time from where we were.  On no, I’d miss the pope!  So we decided to run.  We ran non-stop to the Vatican for 90 minutes.  We entered the grounds of the Vatican breathless and in a sweat.  A man dressed in white read at a lectern from afar.  We could hear him through loudspeakers all around us.  Perhaps the pope?  No, had we missed him?  We hurried through security and joined the throng.  The man in white wasn’t the pope, but a priest, an announcer.

The real man in white finally came out.  We had made it.  But His Holiness was far away from where we were in the crowd, too far across the immense square, barely distinguishable.  He took his seat among the black- and scarlet-robed cardinals.  He said some prayers during the ceremony and blessed us all.  That was it, I thought.  Audience completed, His Holiness got into the popemobile which I thought would take him back into St. Peters, but it did not!  It was turning our way.  The popemobile was to make a tour of the crowd!  I couldn’t believe my luck.  No, it couldn’t be, he was coming exactly towards where I was, he was going to pass right in front of me…

The popemobile and its entourage gradually approached.  Awe and expectation stunned everyone.  The sporadic applause around me grew increasingly louder and more persistent as the pope approached.  And then here he was, Pope John Paul II, waving beatifically at us, timeless and reassuring.  He passed so close to me I could have touched him had I reached out.  That’s when I took a photo of the man which I treasure to this day.

Pope John Paul II in St. Peters

Pope John Paul II in among the pilgrims

The pope passed.  The lapsed catholic in me stirred.  I tried to choke back my emotions, but my breast trembled, my throat welled up and tears ran down my cheeks.