Pope Francis at Vatican City and Me

At last, I finally got to see my favorite celebrity in person: Pope Fran! He was on his own turf, right in Vatican City. I wish I could say we sat down with a nice cappuccino. Instead, it was just myself, my family and 30K other crazy Pope Fran fans from all over the world.

St. Peter's Square. Seats 50K.

St. Peter’s Square. Seats 50K.

 

My family spent two weeks in Italy, a last hurrah after my oldest graduated high school in mid June. Right after I booked my plane tickets, I set about getting tickets to see my fellow namesake. My friend Monica knew exactly what to do; she went with her family a year ago.

 

I sent an email through the Oakland Diocese requesting General Audience tickets to see the pope. He holds a short service almost every Wednesday morning and anyone can come as long as a ticket is in hand. Admission is free.

 

After a couple of weeks, I got a mysterious email congratulating me and explaining exactly how I pick up tickets. On the Tuesday before, between 3 and 6 pm, I bring my passport and the email to show my family is officially invited to attend the General Audience. The email included walking directions. “As you face Trevi Fountain, a store called Giorgios will be on your left….” After some more directions of take a left and another left, the next instruction described an arched door, “Our Office!”

I thought the explanation point was adorable! It’s kind of an Italian thing to do I noticed from other emails I exchanged with hotels. If you can’t use your hands or your voice to show emphasis, an explanation point is the next best friend for an Italian.

My friend Monica assured me this email wasn’t a set-up. When I arrived at their office!, I expected little old Italian nuns to receive me at the door.   To my surprise, a young, bearded American priest holding an Excel spreadsheet checked for my name and sent us to a short line spilling out of an office. I knew I was in the right spot when I saw a sign posted on a poster-size collage of Pope photos: “Welcome to the Visitors’ Office!” There was that cute explanation point again!

No Kidding!

No Kidding!

 

Pope Fran Fan. I gotta get one of those shirts!

Pope Fran Fan. I gotta get one of those shirts!

An American, youthful nun in a pale blue dress and navy blue habit was standing behind a desk with another excel spreadsheet and a stack of envelopes. Inside our envelope, were four pale pink tickets to the General Audience, old-school like I expected from the Vatican. I stood with my family on a Persian rug a few feet away where an English speaking nun from India, gave us instructions about what to wear, no backpacks, etc.

All the personnel, nuns and priests spoke in soft, peaceful voices. I can’t imagine they talked like that to a pesky little brother or a mom yelling at them to pick up their room. Working for the Pope must really have an impact on its employees.

Now I am very excited about getting to see Pope Fran. All my peeps in the states get my enthusiasm, as if I had tickets to the Beatles. The reaction was quite different with people I didn’t know as well.

 

“What are you Catholic or something?!?” stated a new friend.

 

Even the taxi driver who picked us up at our Rome hotel at 6:45 AM was incredulous.

 

“You going to church?” he asked in broken English when I told him Vatican City was our destination.

 

“Papa Francesco,” I say in my best Italian.

 

I was warned the lines would be crazy! In fact there wouldn’t be a real line because that’s not how Italians line up–one big crowd is the Italian way. We arrived by 7 AM even though the pope doesn’t show until 9:20 AM. Seats are not assigned.

 

“It’s a MOSH PIT! A MOSH PIT I tell you! It’s only for an hour and half and then it’s ok after the metal detectors.” My experienced friend told me.

Mosh Pit!

Mosh Pit!

Euro Boys Waiting In Line.

Euro Boys Waiting In Line at 7 AM.  When in Rome..skip the gel.

Mosh pit behind us.

Mosh pit behind us.

I was ready to go elbow to elbow with anyone until an Italian mom chaperoning a group of yellow-shirted five-year-old’s looked at me a little funny. I didn’t need to understand Italian to know I should back off.

 

Once through security, we walked very fast to get seats next to a barricade. The pope cruises around the audience in his Pope Mobile, waving like Miss America before he gives his message of the day. The closer to the barricade, the better the chance was of me getting a high five, selfie or just a great photo.

 

We grabbed a cluster of four seats next to a barricade.   We sat and waited. I made fast friends with our neighbors. One lady came with her church from Genova and the other with friends from Milano. My Italian was better than their English, which isn’t saying much.  Somehow we got to know each other.  Signora Genova defaulted to French.  I don’t know how she knew I would understand her better. My French is only a hair better than my Italian.

Eglie, was from Milano and only spoke Italian. We took a photo together and became fb friends so I could send her the photo.

My new fb friend.

My new fb friend, Eglie.

I showed them a picture of my dad on the little prayer card we made for his memorial service. I hoped to use it to quickly show Pope Fran my Dad was a Francesco and point to myself and say Francesa.

Mi papa, Francesco.

Mi papa, Francesco.

At last, the pope was coming our way. We all crowded around the barricade. I had to choose: wave my Dad’s prayer card or take a picture. Hubby was behind me with a telephoto lens so I chose to wave the card. Only problem, Pope Fran wasn’t stopping for anyone nor was he even looking my direction. 

Dang! Hubby is good!

Dang! Hubby is good!

Another awesome shot by Hubby!

Another awesome shot by Hubby!

The pope gave his twenty-minute message in Italian, basically to support the poor and disabled. A similar message was stated in English, Spanish, German and French. We were instructed to say The Lord’s Prayer, in Latin. I looked at one of my little Italian ladies, “Are you kidding me?” I said with my eyes. I stuck to English.

 

And then it was over. My new fb friend hugged me and said, “Buon Viagio!”

 

My other Italian buddy, she hugged me and kissed both cheeks, “Ciao-Ciao!”

 

Somehow, 30,000 people fans left in an orderly fashion. No cursing like can sometimes happen in the church parking lot after a service.  Not that I would know.  I didn’t study up swear words in Italian or French.

 

I didn’t get a one-on-one with my idol, but sitting with my little Italian ladies and my family was special enough.

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