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My brother in law is Italian & his name is Giuseppe, for the past ten years he has worked & lived in England but previous to that he lived & worked in Rome, Italy. This meant that we often travelled to Italy for family holidays & Giuseppe would take the time & trouble to show us around his proud city. He started by taking us to all the tourist attractions & then followed by places the tourists know little about. Each time we visited them it was like a challenge to him to find something more interesting. On one visit in 1990 he exceeded all expectations.
He secured four tickets to see the Pope in the Vatican for a private audience on a Wednesday morning! Giuseppe & his family are all Catholics, however I'm not, in fact I'm not that religious but I do have the utmost respect for people & their chosen religion.
My immediate thoughts were a private audience with the Pope would be a room with four of us sitting down answering questions from the man himself about our holidays, how's the dog & such like! In actual fact a private audience is around 500 people from all over the world in a hall on the ground floor of the building the Pope uses as his official residence. This is carried out most Wednesdays.
The tickets are free, however they are very difficult to obtain, they are sent all over the world including the U.K. to Catholic leaders who decide on their allocation.
The tickets which are coloured dark green (one is badly pictured) state on them:
PREFETTURA DELLA CASA PONTIFICIA
Permesso personale per partecipare ll'Udienza del Santo Padre che avra luogo in Vaticano, nell'Aula Paolo VI, mercoledi 7 febbraio 1990, alle ore 11.
The only stipulation was you had to be respectively dressed & be on time, if you arrive just seconds late you are not permitted entry.
At 9' o clock that Wednesday morning the four of us set off from 10 miles south of Rome in a little Fiat Uno & made our way to this 'once in a lifetime' opportunity. The late Pope John Paul II would pull in a bigger crowd than our Queen & the U.S. President combined.
As we travelled through the horrendous traffic jams in the outer districts of Rome it was soon becoming evident that we weren't going to make it on time. Even driving like a typical Italian, Giuseppe wasn't making much progress. We jumped queues, jumped lanes, went down 'rat runs' & slowly we made progress arriving in the Vatican with about 10-15 minutes spare, however we couldn't find a parking space!
Well you know the old saying, when in Rome do what the Romans do, so we did! He parked nose into the kerb with the front wheels on the pavement & the back of the car sticking out into the busy traffic. We were desperate!
We decided that if he gets a parking ticket we would all chip in to cover the costs. We all then ran & arrived in Vatican Square with just seconds to spare.
Each ticket is allocated a seat number & just as we found our seats the doors closed, no one else would be allowed in.
The large hall he uses for his private audiences, seats around 500 people but it wasn't completely full that day with many empty seats. The rows of seats are split into two sides with a wide aisle down the middle. Inside it is tastefully decorated & not as ostentatious as you would expect. On the front stage is the podium & microphone for the Pope. The stage is flanked by his security guards who if I remember were dressed in rather distinctive coloured outfits. They were striped orange, white & black with small pom poms at the end of their shoes & an unusual hat. These guards were incredible, during the whole time the remained totally motionless. It wasn't a hot day when we were there but it must be very difficult trying to remain motionless in the height of the summer.
Within minutes of arriving the Pope emerged from the back of the stage to hand clapping & sighs of disbelief from some of the congregation. He made a hand gesture to quieten the crowd down (which worked) & started his message in Italian.
My Italian is rather limited to asking for a beer, saying hello & goodbye & counting from 1-4. Well it comes in handy when you need more than one beer!!! Unable to understand what he was saying my sister in law translated. His basic message was how he prayed for peace in the world & in particular in the Middle East. At this time the Berlin Wall had just been pulled down & we were still about a year away from the first Gulf war. After about 15 minutes he then started to repeat his message in Spanish. There was a crowd of 200 people at the back of the hall from South American who got the benefit of this message. After that, he repeated the same message in English & then in his native Polish. I presume today the new Pope does a German version.
By now one hour had gone by & his messages were complete, the congregation clapped loudly & at that moment he made his way down to the crowd with his guards a respectable distance behind. We were sitting about eight rows from the stage at the aisle end of the row. He made his way up the aisle speaking to as many people as he could; it was starting to get hectic as people climbed seats to get near him. Within minutes he came over to us & said something in Italian & blessed each one of us individually before moving on. It was witnessing all this that the sheer enormity of it all hits you, despite the fact I'm not a Catholic I bet many Catholics around the world have given their limbs to be in this position.
We took it as good manners not to take a camera with us that day, but everyone else was taking pictures & video film & he didn't appear to be concerned. We were than ushered out of the hall back into the square, it had been quite a surreal experience & a chance I am not likely to ever see again.
You can of course come to the square in the Vatican every Sunday morning as thousands do & hear his message which he conveys from a top floor window in his residence. But this private meting really was something else.
Incidentally when we got back to the car it didn't have a parking ticket, apparently everyone parks like this in Rome if they can't find a space!
Pictures of Vatican, Rome
The ticket is actually dark green & all written in Italian