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…:-)
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!
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!
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 http://www.vatican.va/various/prefettura/en/biglietti_en.html
- 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!