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How would you feel when you are a mere two to three meters away from Pope Francis with just a barrier and the Swiss Guards between you? I was blessed to experience this last May 14, 2016 during the Jubilee Year of Mercy Audience with Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, Italy.

I have been to Italy before but since 2016 was a Special Jubilee Year of Mercy, I returned together with my sister and her family. We covered Northern and Southern Italy but our main purpose was to go to Rome so we could pass through the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica and attend the Papal Audience in the Vatican.

The Papal Audience is held every Wednesday at St. Peter’s Square when the pope is in Rome. This gives the visitors and pilgrims the chance to see the pope and receive his Apostolic or Papal Blessing. With 2016 being a Special Jubilee Year of Mercy, there were some Saturdays where there was a Jubilee Year of Mercy Audience. During the Audience, there are short readings and teachings in various languages. The pope also gives his greetings in different languages with mentions of special groups, usually pilgrims. At the end of the Audience, he prays the Our Father together with the attendees and gives his Apostolic Blessing being the successor of the Apostle Peter, to the crowd. This blessing extends to the attendee’s loved ones who are sick and suffering. He also blesses the religious articles brought by them.

The Papal Audience starts at 10 am and security opens at around 8 am. So as to get good seats, one has to come early to be at the front of the line when security opens. St. Peter’s Square is divided into small sections with barricades not only for security reasons but for the popemobile to go around these areas and the attendees can all have the chance to see the pope. Before the Audience starts, he goes around all the sections in his popemobile before proceeding to the altar. Tips: Stay near the big aisles. It is there that the popemobile passes. It is also beneficial if you are seated near babies or small children because there is a big chance that the popemobile would stop where they are.

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My family and I were blessed to have seats in front of our section near the big aisles. Unfortunately, minutes before the start of the Audience, it started to rain almost non-stop. We were in thick hooded jackets but left our folding umbrellas in our rented AibBnB apartment at the last minute. As soon as Pope Francis appeared, the people were in a frenzy eagerly waiting for the popemobile to pass. As it was turning our section’s corner, I began taking pictures and videos of Pope Francis. When it was approaching where we were, my sister and I began chanting “Lolo Kiko! Lolo Kiko!” to get the attention of Pope Francis. Since there was a baby and a few small children across our section, the popemobile stopped in front of us but all we could see was the back of Pope Francis as he carried the baby which was given to him by one of the Swiss Guards. As he was giving his attention to the children, I readied my phone camera in zoom position hoping that he would turn to us. To my dismay he did not turn to our side and the popemobile moved on. With so much disappointment that I was not able to see his face upclose, I chanted like crazy as loud as I can. “Lolo Kiko! Lolo Kiko! My sister did the same. The popemobile stopped and Pope Francis turned to us. He heard us! He gave us his signature big smile and blessing. As he was doing so, I just kept on clicking my phone camera without looking at the screen. It was as if I was in a trance. When the popemobile began moving again, with my trembling body I kept on saying “thank you Lord”. I was ecstatic! It was so surreal! The Italian pilgrims around us were so happy too. They asked what my sister and I were saying that caught the attention of Pope Francis. We told them that when Pope Francis visited the Philippines a few months back, the Filipinos fondly called him “Lolo Kiko” which means Grandpa Francesco. It has been reported that his Philippine visit left a big mark on Pope Francis. He has a soft heart for the Filipinos. When I checked my phone camera, I got very good shots of Pope Francis! I was so happy! From the pictures, it was very clear that he was directly looking at us as he gave his blessing. My brother-in-law who was seated a few seats from us confirmed this. The Italians asked if I have WhatsApp Messenger so I can share my pictures with them. I said no but they can take pictures of my phone’s screen. My family and I were all so wet from the rain and our knees were trembling from the cold but it was all worth it.

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The following day was Pentecost Sunday and Pope Francis was officiating the 10 am mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Only the popes can say mass at the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica because it is the seat of St. Peter. Even without tickets, we were blessed to be able to enter the cordoned area where there were seats for mass goers. We told the man manning the entrance that we did not have tickets but were visiting Catholics. It was the most memorable mass that I have ever attended with the successor of the Apostle Peter officiating. The choir sang heavenly music.

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It was almost 12 noon when the mass ended. There was a huge crowd at St. Peter’s Square outside St. Peter’s Basilica waiting for the Angelus. Every Sunday at 12 noon, the pope shows up at one of the windows of the Papal Apartments and says the Angelus. We saw Pope Francis again. One could not be more blessed seeing him three times within twenty six hours. Thank you Lord!

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One needs a ticket which is free to attend the Papal Audience. This gives the ticket holder a seat at the front of the Square. Tickets can be acquired from the Swiss Guards at the bronze doors just after security at St. Peter’s Basilica. They are given the day before the Audience from 3 pm to 7 pm. One can also pre-book or reserve tickets through the Vatican offices. The same with big groups of more than ten persons. Visit http://www.papalaudience.org/tickets. But with the big volume of reservations requested during Summer, there is no guarantee that the reservation request will be replied. The last recourse is to get from the Swiss Guards. Those without tickets can still attend the Papal Audience, standing room only, at the back of the Square.

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