Those of us attending the Papal Audience left the hotel promptly at 7:00 a.m. and, remembering the helpful tips our tour guide had given us the day before, we were able to get great seats in Vatican Square. Our group not only got seats along a barricade and a baby at the end of the row, but there was also a group of Argentinians in our row – a trifecta!
We were in our seats by 7:50 and were pleasantly surprised by how quickly the time passed, how kind and polite everyone was, and how fortunate we were with the weather – no rain and not too hot! Announcements were made in several languages – Italian, Spanish, French, German, English, Arabic, Russian and Portuguese. The one in English even included a welcome to visitors from St. Norbert College, after which our group erupted in cheers.
At about 9:30, a roar went up from the crowd, announcing the first sighting of the Popemobile. Giant TV screens placed throughout the square enabled us to follow the Pope’s trajectory, which meant that we had our smartphones and cameras at the ready as Pope Francis rounded the corner and made his way alongside our barricade. Indeed he did stop to kiss the baby, which allowed some in the group to get some really great photos. After making his rounds, the Pope took his place on the stage, and after we listened to the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, he spoke to us about prayer. “God has one weakness: He has a weakness for the humble ones. In front of a humble heart, God opens his heart fully.”
As the Papal Audience drew to a close, Pope Francis imparted his Apostolic Blessing on all of us, which also extended to our loved ones, especially those who are sick and suffering, and then he blessed any religious articles we had with us such as rosaries, crucifixes and medals. It was an amazing morning and one that we shall long remember.
Following lunch, we gathered together for our tour of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. The hall of maps was quite interesting, and the trompe l’oeil in some of the ornate tapestries and paintings was mind-blowing. The last 20 minutes of our tour was spent in the Sistine Chapel. No photography was allowed, and you were supposed to observe in silence. Of course, people didn’t obey the rules, so there were guards shouting “Silenzio!” and “No photo!” every few minutes. One could spend hours looking at every detail – our time there was far too short for such a masterpiece.
We took the bus back to our hotel, and said our goodbyes to Hans. Our farewell dinner was at a restaurant just down the street from the hotel. The courses were amazing, with generous portions of each. Dinner paled in comparison, however, to the meaningful conversations among new friends at each table. It was a perfect end to the trip.