Fans started queuing up well before dawn. They rushed the gate when it opened, hoping to secure a seat near this man who has burst onto the world stage. Pope Francis is a rock star. His picture is plastered all across Italy and his Wednesday Papal Audiences are a hot ticket in Rome.
An audience with this pope is like being at the opening ceremony of the Olympics. It’s a joyful event with groups in their national colors, waving banners and singing songs. Children chant “Papa Francesco” as they sit atop parents’ shoulders straining to get a glimpse. And otherwise mild-mannered nuns push past men twice their size to get close to the man dubbed “the coolest pope of all times”.
It’s not just charisma that makes this pope popular. He is humble and caring and exudes the love of Saint Francis. As the face of the Catholic Church, he also knows how to work the room. Papa lingers with the crowd, cooing to babies and lovingly cupping the hands of the elderly. It must drive his security team nuts.
Clearly, the Pope enjoys this weekly tradition of pressing the flesh and addressing the faithful. On the day we were there, jugglers opened the event with Pope Francis sitting, wide-grinned on a throne, center stage.
When it came time to get serious, a hush fell across the crowd. Pope Francis gave an urgent plea to the world to value the role of the father. “Sadly, we are experiencing a crisis in fatherhood,” he said. “Without fathers, our children are left adrift.”
He spoke to the people in Italian and Spanish. Translations were offered in English, French, German and several other languages. The universal language of the Church, Latin, was used for the Lord’s Prayer.
When the Pope blessed the audience, he blessed their material goods too – rosaries, prayer cards, even backpacks and purses. Normally, this would have closed the event; but the faithful weren’t ready to leave. And clearly, neither was Francis.
He worked his way, slowly, up each side of the aisle – cupping hands and touching hearts. In many ways, it’s exactly what Jesus would have done. – Ginny Prior