Story and pictures by James Campbell
I have been lucky enough to be in St Peter’s Square, in Rome, to be part of the thousands of pilgrims at a Papal General Audience.
I was there in the final days of Pope John-Pall II when he faced severe illness to meet us and listen to our tributes. It was far from the day in 1982 when, he was as a fit and active Pontiff and I went with him as the only foreign media representative to visit one of his parishes on the outskirts of Rome. His planned two-hour visit extended to four hours and he took obvious joy in talking to local people in the church, school and community centre. He seemed to draw inspiration from them and the human electricity flowed into the Holy Father from the thousands of people gathered to meet him..
So it was on November 22, in Rome, when I attended Pope Francis’ General Audience and listen to his inspiring homily after reading in the Old and New Treatments, delivered in many languages, including English. It opened with:
“Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our continuing catechesis on the Eucharist, we now consider the Mass as the memorial of Christ’s passover from death to life. In the Bible, a “memorial” is more than a mere remembrance of a past event; it is the making present of that event, which enables us to share in its saving power. At every celebration of the Eucharist, Jesus pours out his mercy upon us, as he did on the cross, in order to renew our hearts, our lives and our entire world. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, “as often as the sacrifice of the cross is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out” (Lumen Gentium, 3). Each Sunday, we enter into Christ’s victory over sin and death and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given a share in his very life. By making present the Lord’s paschal mystery, the Eucharist strengthens us to bear witness, like the martyrs of old, to his triumph over death and to love others as he does, freely giving of ourselves for their good.”
Also, in several languages he sent a messages to the many nationalities gathered in front of St Peter’s Basilica, saying:
“I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly the groups from England, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia, China, Indonesia, Singapore and the United States of America. I offer a particular greeting to the Marist and Marianist Brothers taking part in a programme of spiritual renewal, and to the members of the priestly fraternity Companions of Christ. Upon all of you, and your families, I invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The audience lasted an hour…but two hours had passed and Pope Francis still circulated amongst various pilgrim groups, stopping and chatting to them. He talked to every wheelchair disabled person there, individually greeting them, kissing those who could not speak, children and giving his Papal blessing to all, including several new brides in their wedding dresses who had come for a Papal blessing.
And as with Pope John-Paul II, those many years ago, he seemed to draw energy from the masses there to hear and greet him and, despite his age, he spritely almost bounded down the stairs from the Basilica and into the open Popemobile!
He eschews tight security in his aim to meet and greet his flock on a personal level.
Long may he do so!