My view of the Pope

An audience with the Pope

“Do you want to come and see the Pope tomorrow?” the girl who sat next to me at the hostel bar yelled. I was in Rome, but this was not a question that I was expecting to be asked at 2am on a Wednesday. Immediately, I said yes. I am not sure if this was “doing as the Romans do”, but it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.

I set my alarm, still not entirely sure whether this was just a drunken joke or a concrete plan. Luckily, at 7 o’clock, we set off. When we arrived at St Peter’s square it was deserted. The impact of Coronavirus was clear to see. There were a few scattered tourists but no sign of the Pope.

An empty St Peter’s square

Soon enough, I came across a member of the Swiss Guard. He stood there, holding a comically large pike, dressed in an outfit that would not be out of place at a fancy dress party. I joked that I hoped we wouldn’t have any problems if this was all that there was to protect us. He guided us up a marble staircase and through a number of winding corridors before we popped out in a courtyard deep inside the Vatican.

I was expecting thousands to be packed into such a small place, but instead found around 500 socially distanced chairs. I sat next to Claudia, a nun from America. She wore an alabaster habit, and I could see her smile beaming through from under the facemask. “You don’t know how lucky you are seeing the Pope” she told me, fiddling with her prayer beads all the while. She was right. I really hadn’t given it much thought until that moment. Here I was, sat in the Vatican City awaiting one of the most influential people in the world. However, our chat was interrupted by the arrival of Pope Francis.

The Pope took his time processing through the courtyard. He was surprisingly sprightly for an 84 year old, ensuring he spoke to every person that came to him, shaking hands and offering words of comfort. I was taken aback by how much this meant to people. Some told me they had travelled thousands of miles just for this moment.

After arriving at his heavily padded chair situated at the top of the courtyard, he stood up, adjusted his glasses, and pulled out a wad of paper beginning his sermon in Italian. I sat there bemused. My knowledge of Italian consisted of the word grazie, but I was not alone. Looking around, others were exchanging puzzled glances. Fortunately, everything he said was repeated in every major European language. The Pope’s message was one of hope and the importance of unity during the difficult times of the pandemic and then he blessed everyone in attendance.

I’m not a Catholic. However, that morning I was in awe of the place and company that I had found myself in. All because I said yes to something in a bar at 2am.