In this electronic age when we experience so many things digitally, being able to see someone, live, close, and in 3D, can be a very enthralling experience. In a time when crowds have migrated online, being part of an actual crowd can create indelible memories. For many people, seeing the Pope in person is one of these enthralling experiences.
Pope Francis is someone who can be seen on a variety of screens from large to handheld, and when he does appear live around the globe, he often draws audiences of hundreds of thousands - most of whom watch him on giant screens placed around the venues where he appears.
However, if you happen to be in Rome on a Wednesday morning, you can go to Vatican City to see this leader of over one billion people live and quite close in the very manageable venue of St. Peter's Square. On almost every Wednesday of the year when he is not traveling, Pope Francis holds a "general audience" in the square at 10 a.m. local time. (Check the schedule on the Vatican web site.) It's a chance to get physically closer to one of the most famous people on the planet than you would the players at a basketball game or musicians at a stadium concert.
There are two ways for Americans to get an audience with the Pope. One is to obtain tickets through the Church of Santa Susanna, the home of the American Catholic Church in Rome. Tickets should be ordered in advance and need to be picked up at the church, which is in Rome but not in Vatican City. Tickets are free, but it's considered good form to make a donation. Once you get to St. Peter's Square, there is a roped-off area with seats. You'll need to present your ticket to one of the Pontifical Swiss Guards, who have been guarding popes for over 500 years and are easily recognizable in their colorful uniforms made up of red, yellow and blue.
But you don't actually have to have a ticket to get within shouting distance of Pope Francis. Just show up at St. Peter's Square on a Wednesday morning, preferably early enough to get a spot near the seated area. If you're feeling lucky (or blessed), you may arrive on one of the days when the Pope takes a spin around the square in the open-air Pope-mobile, which takes him through the crowd outside of the seated area.
There's something thrilling about seeing a crowd come alive at the arrival of someone they've come to see, be it an athlete, singer or religious figure. Whatever your religious inclinations or affiliations, it's a special experience to be able to see someone beloved by faithful followers returning that devotion - and all in a setting that brings to bear over 2,000 years of history.
After the Pope appears and greets the crowd, he speaks to them in Italian. There are also other speakers, also in Italian. Later, you can check the Vatican web site for an English translation of what was said.
Of course, once you are in Vatican City, you will also want to take time to visit the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel. Lines for these are generally very long, so it is often worth the effort to book something in advance that allows you to skip the lines. This can be done through tour companies, or even at the Vatican Museum's web site.
Put down that screen and get the full Papal experience at Vatican City. After all, as the old saying goes, "When in Rome..."
What is your favorite religious site to visit?
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Kathleen Curry and Geoff Griffin are hosts of The Travel Brigade Show - a weekly travel and destination podcast. Kathleen Curry is experienced in both the travel industry and broadcasting. She has worn the hats of travel writer, photographer, travel agent and hospitality evaluator. Her advice of, “No excuses, just travel!” reaches out to listeners who pick up on her enthusiasm for travel and benefit from her savvy advice. Her travel guilty pleasures are eating at a street-cart vendor so she can splurge later to order room service, finding deals to rack up sky miles so she can book her next flight and hoping her social security comes through some day because she has spent her future retirement savings trekking the globe.
Geoff Griffin is a reformed attorney turned travel junkie with over two decades of experience as a journalist and editor specializing in sports, outdoor recreation and travel. His current philosophy is that there are two stages in life - You’re either on a trip, or you’re planning your next trip. His travel guilty pleasure is trying recreation adventures that require the use of an expert guide to keep him from harming himself or hopping on a plane knowing nothing about his destination other than the airport code and wandering about a new town while relying on the locals to point him to the best places.
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