There’s a picture hanging in my living room of my husband and I meeting Pope Francis. It’s always one of the first things guests notice: “Is that you and the pope?!” Most people are surprised to find out that any Catholic newlywed couple can meet the pope. You just have to get to Rome with your wedding dress.
It’s a custom called Sposi Novelli, meaning “newlyweds” in Italian. The concept is that all Catholic couples are invited to have the pope bless their marriage in person.
The Sposi Novelli blessing is well-known among European Catholics, but much less so among Catholics from other parts of the globe. But there’s no reason it shouldn’t be well-known worldwide. The audience is free and the process is straightforward. But do be aware of a few things before you go …
1Go on a Wednesday within two months of your wedding
The Sposi Novelli blessing takes place at the conclusion of Wednesday General Audiences at the Vatican. Because it’s specifically for newlyweds, you have to have been married within the past two months to sign up.
2Reserve tickets ASAP
You can reserve tickets through The Pontifical North American College. You’ll want to reserve tickets as soon as you buy your flights to Rome. Then when you get to Rome, you will visit a specific office (not the College itself!) to pick up your tickets. Check the website for full details, but here’s some of what they say about tickets:
Tickets for papal events such as the Wednesday General Audience or papal Masses can be requested by emailing us at email@example.com. Tickets for all events are free of charge.
Tickets for the Wednesday Papal Audience are available for collection at our office on Via dell’Umiltà, 30, near the Trevi Fountain, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on the evening before the audience. Tickets must be picked up in person either by you or your representative. Unfortunately, this office is unable to mail, deliver, or e-mail tickets. If you are running late and will not be able to come to our office before 4:00 p.m., please call or email us. The times for collection of tickets for Papal Liturgies will be indicated in the personal response pilgrims receive from our office.
3Bring your wedding dress
One last rule is that you’re required to wear “wedding attire” and follow the Vatican clothing guidelines. Some brides opt to leave their wedding dresses at home and wear a different long white dress for ease of packing. I brought my real dress; I figured, why buy two?
For the trip, I rolled it up tightly in my suitcase and left the petticoat at home. It actually took up less space than I expected and I felt lucky to have a chance to wear it again. And honestly, it felt pretty fabulous to promenade through the cobblestone streets of Rome in the fanciest dress I’ve ever owned!
The pope doesn’t always individually greet each couple, but he did when we went in May 2013, and we were able to speak to him for several minutes. If you’d like a photo of your meeting with the pope, there are professional photographers at the event snapping pictures, and they’ll pass out their business cards so you can order photos from them.
Finally, here’s a pro tip: Bring an umbrella! You’ll want one whether you get rain or shine. The audiences take place in St. Peter’s Square, which has no cover from either rain or sun. We actually got both kinds of weather the day of our Sposi Novelli blessing: First it rained, and we got soaked. Then the sun came out and beat down on us, and we got sunburned! Learn from my mistake and bring an umbrella. A bottle of water would come in handy, too.
Hopefully this helps you get your own chance to meet Pope Francis and receive a papal blessing on your new marriage! And 10 or 20 or 50 years from now, guests to your home will still be exclaiming, “Is that you meeting the pope?” It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and my husband and I are so glad we did it.