"It's moving to be here because it's almost a return to normalcy"
There hasn’t been such a crowd at the Pope’s Wednesday audience since pre-pandemic days. The November 24 audience was a bit different, with two venues set up: some 3,000 people in St. Peter’s and the crowd in Paul VI Hall.
While the Pontiff usually arrives around 9 am to Paul VI to deliver his catechesis, this time he made a detour to St. Peter’s Basilica at 8:30 am to greet the faithful who had been waiting for a good hour to see the Pope, and then follow his audience via screens.
The Vatican had anticipated the arrival of several significant groups. There was the “Vincentian Family,” with some 1,000 members who came to conclude a year-long pilgrimage organized for the 190th anniversary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin to Catherine Labouré.
Several hundred people from the Italian charity John Paul II were also present, as well as members of the Italian association Victims of Violence, which helps battered women.
“It’s an indescribable emotion to be there and to be able to see the Pope up close,” said Maria Rosaria, who traveled all night from Puglia, accompanying her daughter’s school, which had come for the papal audience. The last time she visited the Vatican was two and a half years ago, just before the pandemic.
“It’s moving to be here because it’s almost a return to normalcy,” says Miriam of the John Paul II Association. However, she stresses that the health instructions remain. “Wearing a mask all the time is really trying,” she says.
Before entering the great basilica, all the faithful had their temperatures taken. The health pass, on the other hand, is not required for general audiences or religious celebrations in the Vatican.
Among the faithful gathered this morning, many have memories of difficult moments related to the pandemic. “We saw the television images of St. Peter’s Square empty, the church empty,” said Carla, who came from Piedmont with the Italian Association of Victims of Violence. “Seeing St. Peter’s Basilica again with so many people is particularly moving,” she says.
For his part, Ivan, a seminarian in the city of Piacenza, south of Milan, is happy to be able to travel again, even though his region was greatly affected by Covid-19. “The fact that we were able to get out of the seminary was already a great thing,” he says. After having suffered the full brunt of the crisis, he feels fortunate to be able to experience this with the Pope today.
Alongside Miriam, from the John Paul II Association, Franca and Maria are also enthusiastic. “We are leaving with hope and serenity,” says Franca. With the hope of coming back again, Maria adds.