Photo of the Week: Pope In-motion Emotion

In the fast-paced moments after a Papal audience has ended, the Pope-mobile revs up its engine (The Vatican’s equivalent of something Schumacher or Jeff Gordon or Ricky Bobby would drive) and begins circulating around St. Peter’s Square.

It must be surreal to the Pope-du-jour, especially having to do this week after week (except when the audiences are held indoors).  At least, it surely would be to me if I were Pope…  Now, I am sure these men do it because they know what it means to the faithful pilgrims and the non-believer/believer celebrity chasers visiting Rome.  But it still must become routine.  I am writing this AFTER Pope Francis who has broken a lot of the rules and patterns – who knows what he will do with this drive-around one fine day when he is just tired of it!  This Holiness probably much rather be walking around, mingling, drinking some “mate” or, at minimum, a Mendoza wine.  In any case, it is quite the scene.  Getting to St. Pete’s Square early enough and knowing the key “intersections” where the Pope-mobile will go through is key.

Pope mobile, Pope, Vatican, St. Peter's Square, papal audience, Catholic, faithful, emotion

What I love about this picture is a mix of the camera-happy crowd, the Pope-mobile, a corner of the Pope (Benedict XVI, in this case), and the emotion captured in the reflection of that bullet-proof glass.  Regardless of your position vis-à-vis the Pope, etc. I hope you appreciate, as I do, the human emotion captured in that bullet-proof glass.  Whether it be about a Pope, about voodoo, about a piece of bacon, about having 6-pack abs, or about saving dolphins, every human being has something that grabs them and makes them tick.  This pic does it for me because, even if it is not technically superb, it shows human joy about being close to what is normally an unreachable.

Traipsing around Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum

Not being keen on lines and much less crowds, I instantly mentally said “yes” when I saw there was a tour of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum before the crowds got in.  I was quite willing to pay for the privilege of going before the SC and VM opened – which is rather an inaccurate concept as the moment you go in, the museum IS open – but this “before it opens” thing is about beating the crowds who did not want to wake up earlier, who did not want to (or could) pay the extra cost, or who did not know/think about it ahead of time.  Plus with a tour guide to be sure nothing noteworthy was missed in the eagerness to see the SC.

Vatican Museum statue

Sample art at the Vatican Museum

Dark Rome ( provided one of those tours.  (I found them via my ultimate authority for local tours, Viator.)  Their tour guide, an archaelogist from Ireland named Rachel (cute!) was engaging and well prepared.  But beyond not missing any key artifacts, the value was getting background knowledge about the great pieces I was going to see.

I have to say that while there were other tour groups (I didn’t pay THAT much money!), there was space to move around and stop without getting crashed into or pushed.  Lots of interesting art (Rafael’s masterpiece right before the SC being one of them) and architecture.  The crown jewel, though, really blew me away.  Having heard SO MUCH about it, I was expecting to be impressed but not blown away.  One of those things were the expectations are made so big that by the time you get there, it is not the same as what it had been built to be.

NOT this time!  I have to say that having learned how frescoes are made in the tour, having been explained Michelangelo’s design and process, etc. really made a big difference in the appreciation for those drawings up in a ceiling.  Just thinking about how high he had to climb every day to do the job was quite impressive.  (I did wonder if he took bathroom breaks and, if so, did he do it in a bucket and lowered it when done… or was he SO engrossed in his masterpiece that he could hold it however many hours??  The things that churn in my head…)

Soapbox break.  The one shameful thing I observed was fellow tourists who did not seem to get the concept of no pictures allowed.  First of all, these fools don’t realize those drawings are so far up that their pictures will do them no justice.  Just buy a freaking post card or, even better, the book. But most importantly for me is the lack of respect they show for a place of worship.  If you cannot respect the sites you visit, then why are you really going there anyway?  I treat other faiths’ places of worship with the same respect I pay my own.  Soapbox break over.

It is neat to understand where Michelangelo started the ceiling and how his technique evolved during the project.  I didn’t realize he was rather inexperienced in frescoes when he got the commission (that he didn’t want to do but Julius II forced to accept).  I will not get into it here as I am not an art connossieur nor is that the purpose of this blog.  But it is really interesting to see how he learned about how to do the frescoes once he came down and admired one of the earliest panels finished – the ceiling was too far up and the figures were too small:  he had to paint them bigger!  I am surprised though that he didn’t re-do that first panel.  Or maybe he did and I didn’t catch that…

The Sistine Chapel frescoes on the ceiling are matched by an imposing altarpiece fresco where Michelangelo gets back at a “foe” using his face as the face of someone being walked into hell.  I think Michelangelo won that little feud of theirs…  And remember Rome is eternal…  Lots of good ceilings in the Vatican (and Rome)!

Finally, as a Catholic, picturing a conclave (where Popes are elected) taking place in the SC while standing there was priceless.  I couldn’t quite picture all these cardinals in there but, I take it by faith.

I think in some future visit, perhaps I will explore more of the VM themselves.  Lots of important artifacts and art that I may not really be prepared to explore.  But something will be learned, something will probably impress me and… I can get to see the awesome work in the Sistine Chapel one more time!

Front row tickets to a Papal audience – feels good to be an “IP”

Guest post by Chris Sanders on the trip we all took to see the Pope in 2006:

Wow, front row tickets to a Papal audience and get to see the Pope up close …read on!

One of the more unique, interesting, and fulfilling experiences one can have in Rome is to attend a Papal general audience. There is something almost magical about the crowds of thousands, packed into St. Peter’s Square to see and hear the Pontiff – the leader of a billion Catholics worldwide. Even for non Catholic and non religious people, the experience can be interesting and unique at minimum…and its free of charge!

My wife and I have been to no fewer than five Papal events, three of which were general audiences (the other two were the Beatification of Mother Teresa and an Easter Mass). During general audiences in St. Peter’s, the Square is partitioned into several sections – each section is filled with rows of plastic chairs. Sections are filled on a first come first serve basis…most of the time, despite arriving early, we get a seat somewhere in the middle of the Square, far away from the “action.” Thankfully the Vatican has invested in really good video monitors and a world class sound system…seriously, you can actually hear the Pope take a breath before he speaks!

However, during our most recent Papal audience, we (my wife and I along with our friends Raul, Beth Ann, and Bill) were treated to especially good seats, way up in the Pontiff’s “VIP section” (as I call it) – the boxed section just to the right of the Pope’s canopy if you are facing the Basilica…it probably has a more official name… now that I think about it, maybe its called the “IP” section, because across from our section (and to the left of the Papal canopy) were seated various European royals and other dignitaries, many of whom were invited to approach and receive a blessing from the Pope after the audience…I guess technically, they were in the “VIP” section as it were…still, the IP section wasn’t so bad…:-)

Seat from VIP section at Papal audience at The Vatican

View from our seats – no zoom!

Queen Fabiola and Queen Paola of Belgium at Papal Audience

Queens Fabiola (left) and Paola (center) of Belgium

Anyway, so there we were, in the “IP” section at St. Peter’s during a Papal audience. The experience was exhilarating to say the least…from this vantage point (as one would expect) the sounds are clearer, the sites more vivid — and in addition to being only a few yards away from the Pontiff, one also gets to view the Square and see the massive crowds from his perspective…I mean, imagine if – on an otherwise routine Wednesday at 11am – a few hundred thousand people came to see and hear what you had to say, wow!

The most exciting moment came at the end of the ceremony, when the Pope got into his Pope Mobile…and on his way to tour the Square, the white open air Mercedes made a quick pass by our section. The Pope himself passed literally just out of arms length of us…a few nuns who were positioned slightly in front of us actually made a connection with the Pontiff!

Pope Benedict XVI doing the rounds after the Papal Audience in St. Peter's Square

Each of our Papal events we’ve attended have been special, for different reasons. The day we were “IPs” was special in its own right as the vantage point was unparalleled. Also, this was the first time we saw Pope Benedict XVI…our previous three events were with Pope John Paul II. Viva il Papa!

St. Peter's Basilica at The Vatican

If you are interested in attending a Papal audience, the below should help with your planning:

  • Papal general audiences are held each Wednesday at 11am. In the wintertime or on days with bad weather, the audience is held indoors (in the Basilica or in the Hall of Papal Audiences). In the summer months, the audience is held outdoors in St. Peter’s Square.
  • Tickets are free but should be reserved in advance and picked up at the Vatican the day before the audience. There are multiple outlets but I suggest going right to the official source, the Prefecture of the Papal Household
  • Remember, tickets to Papal audiences are TOTALLY FREE! If someone tries to sell you a ticket, don’t buy!
  • If you want to sit in the “VIP” or “IP” sections (remember these are my terms, not the Vatican’s), you are urged to work through your local parish Church…even then, I don’t think anything is guaranteed. In fact, we didn’t realize our tickets were “premium” until we picked them up the day before the audience.
  • Arrive to St. Peter’s as early as possible in order to get the best seat possible. Be advised, you have to pass through a security checkpoint
  • Hit the restroom beforehand…there aren’t many restrooms available within the Square…
  • Take a hat to protect your head from the sun…it actually can be quite intense in St. Peter’s Square

Good luck! If you want additional information or if you would like to share your experiences attending a Papal audience, let us know via a reply to this blog!


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