Monday, 10 January 2011

A Papal Audience - and the cry went up for "BEN - EH - DETTO!"

Rome last Wednesday and we made our way across the city to attend our first Papal Audience, along with 5,998 other pilgrims. We arrived early but, even so, the nearest to the stage we could get was about half way back, some 60 or more metres from where the Holy Father would sit.

Cold and wet but nothing could dampen the spirits of Papal Audience pilgrims

Now, I am not one for cliches but, the atmosphere was electric and the mood of the audience more carnival than one might expect given that the Head of an organisation comprising 1.2 billion members and the successor to St Peter,  was about to put in an appearance.
We had arrived clutching our passes and expecting a rigorous security procedure. Not so. Vatican security has obviously been created by a committee of Italians. They need to get a German or a Swiss on the job. I do not suppose that any Vaticanistas read this blog but, if they do, this is an issue that needs addressing pronto! I won't go into detail for obvious reasons.
Settling in our seats we were caught up by the feverish excitement displayed by the audience. Impromptu performances sprang up from around the auditorium; a nine year old boy played cornet pieces, seminarians from the US sang motets, Italian schoolgirls chanted rah rah style, parish choirs offered up hymns, Finnish seminaries gave us plainchant. A German band oompah pahed at the front. It was all too good to be real.
The sense of one Catholic family crossed the divide of nations that made up the audience; Finns, Germans, Poles, Phillipinos, Chinese, English, Welsh, and more besides.

Last Night of the Proms? No - the arrival of Pope Benedict!
 We watched as various Papali and officials moved onto the stage and a great cheer went up when we saw Fr Carlos from the Secretary of State's Office, enter stage right.
He looked out towards us and, unbelievably, saw our group and responded to our waves. Was this really happening? Could you attend an event such as this and still feel as if it was a parish party? The answer is yes, unequivocally, yes. It was, even for an old curmudgeon such as myself, a joyful and wondrously informal happening.
As the clock edged nearer to the appointed hour, so the excitement cranked up several notches and the chant went up for "BEN - EH - DETTO!"
Finally, "BEN - EH - DETTO!" appeared on stage and the crowd erupted to calls of delight and applause.
There then followed the set format of Vatican representatives of countries present, giving the notices of welcome. Fr Carlos gave (obviously) the Spanish rendering to huge cheers from the Welsh contingent which puzzled many in the crowd, understandably so.

Father Carlos, star of EWTN!
Then, Pope Benedict gave his address. I cannot recall what he said; I am not even certain if I heard what he said: I was just captivated by the moment.
At various stages in his address, odd sections of the audience burst out again into fragments of musical appreciation and the Holy Father paused and gave them a discreet wave of recognition. This was not a formal occasion, it was more Last Night of the Proms meets Catholic Festival.
And, at the end, the great and the good from the first few rows of seats, wandered onto stage to be introduced to His Holiness. No fuss, no narky officials kicking people back into line, no unseemly scrambling for position. Just the Father of a family greeting his much loved children.
Love, joy and affection all round.

Afterwards, a drifting away and a search for a reasonably priced Tratt ( a hopeless task). We settled more for convenience than cost and paid the price. I chatted to Australian pilgrims and offered them my sincere condolences for the Test result. They responded with rictus like grimaces. "But I am so very sorry" I continued.
"No you're bloody not!" came the response - hoots of laughter all round.
A good ending to the day.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a cliche free post (?)

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