Did you know that you can arrange to attend a Papal audience with the Pope and, if you’re lucky, be less than 20 feet away from His Holiness? And do this all for free?
Keep in mind that you’ll be sharing the experience with 5,000 or so other interested folks and pilgrims. But if visiting the Vatican is in your Roman travel plan, you may want to arrange the experience of a public papal audience in Vatican City, even if you’re not Catholic.
General Papal Audiences are held every Wednesday that the Pope is at home at the Vatican. You can obtain free tickets to these audiences for the date that coincides with your visit, provided that you order them ahead of time from the Church of Santa Susanna, the American Church in Rome.
You should plan to spend an entire day experiencing and visiting the Vatican on your Roman journey; exploring the magnificent Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and even climbing St. Peter’s Dome, if you don’t mind the height and narrow staircases. While St. Peter’s is the faith centre for Roman Catholics across the world, anyone interested in history, culture, art and architecture will find something of interest and significance at the Vatican.
Vatican City is a separate state jurisdiction from Rome and from Italy. You won’t need to show your passport at the border to enter, as there isn’t one, and getting there simply involves either walking or making your way by bus from wherever you are in Rome. There are no Metro stops within easy distance, so wear comfortable walking shoes.
We were advised to arrive for the Papal Audience two hours ahead of the 10:30 AM event start time. That meant leaving our apartment, which was 30 minutes from Rome by train by 7:30 AM. We had already picked up our Audience tickets from the Church of Santa Susanna the day before as required. The Church provides a free ticket service for those interested in attending a Papal Audience, provided you order the tickets ahead of time.
We made our way to St. Peter’s Square and showed our tickets to enter into one of the four large quadrants of seating that are set up for these audiences in the Square. The outdoor seating area fills up very quickly. We asked one of the Swiss Guards – dressed up in their striking blue, red and yellow uniforms – about our seating options to best see the Pope on his arrival. We followed his instructions to sit as close to the middle of the cross-shaped access as we could get. As you’ll be seated for a while before and during the Papal Audience, make sure you’re dressed in layers for the weather conditions, and pack some snacks and drinks for yourselves and the kids. You’ll be there for approximately 5 hours and it’s not easy to leave and return once you’ve found your seats.
The Pope arrives in a small, covered Pope-mobile that drives around and between the seating areas, but not in the same pattern every week. As luck would have it, we had perfect seats to view Pope Benedict as he drove right in front of our seating area, everyone madly cheering and waving as he passed. It was a thrilling experience to be so close!
The Audience that follows the Pope’s arrival consists of multi-lingual blessings of everyone present, and of specific national groups and pilgrims from all over the world that have made their way to Rome to visit the Vatican. We were visiting just days during the Holy Week before Easter and it was an incredibly busy time. The Papal Audience lasted for 2 hours, and the atmosphere was so festive and boisterous it felt like a sporting event.
Pope Francis is incredibly popular, so make sure that you book your papal audience tickets as soon as you confirm your flights to Rome. You won’t regret experiencing this unique religious and cultural event on your Roman holiday.
Interested in more Rome travel tips? Check out our Top Ten Things to Do in Rome with Kids and Families!
Photo Credit: C. Laroye
Have you visited the Vatican or experienced a Papal Audience? Share your experience in the comments below.