Jessica Benmen Spring 2015 Temple Rome

Feeling #blessed

I think we can all agree that the main reason you would spend a semester in Rome is the opportunity to live out your lifelong dream of becoming Lizzie McGuire. Sadly for me (and all the folks at home living vicariously through me), the Trevi Fountain is under construction, so it’s looking like I’m going to need to find a new focus for the next few months.

Luckily, Lizzie isn’t the only star associated with Rome. Over the past two years Pope Francis has become an international celebrity, making his way out of the strictly religious sphere and into the world of secular news and media. And although the resemblances between me and the clumsy, blonde sitcom star are uncanny, as a Religion major interested in interfaith work, Francis wins for being slightly more relevant to my life.

Anyway, thanks to a professor who believes in incorporating the city of Rome into our courses, I got to see the Holy Father in person this week. As it turns out, the Vatican holds Papal Audiences every Wednesday when the Pope is in Rome as long as it’s not a holy day. Tickets are free and relatively easy to get, assuming you’re not trying to go in a large group—all you have to do is stop by St. Peter’s the day before and pick up your ticket from the (fantastically dressed) Swiss guards.

St. Peter's, not too shabby
St. Peter’s, not too shabby

Pro-tip: show up EARLY. I mean it. Early. The event was called for 10 a.m., and we got there at 8, which was early enough to get us seats about four rows from the front (it’s first come first serve, and the seats behind us filled up quickly). If you don’t make it to the front, try the back or one of the sides of the section. When Francis first comes out in his popemobile he drives around through all the sections (as the crowd cheers like they’re at a Beyoncé concert) and anyone standing at the partition has a chance to get close to him. He also stops every couple minutes along the way to give a quick blessing or kiss a baby, so presumably if you’re looking particularly godless that day you have a shot at talking to him.

The program started with a bible reading, subsequently translated into an impressive assortment of languages—this week’s installment featured Italian, Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, Polish, German, and Arabic. Francis then gave a short sermon about the importance of family, namely the power of the parent/child relationship, which he likened to the relationship between man and God. Shout outs to the various groups of visiting pilgrims were sprinkled in throughout the program.

The main man
The main man

The audience concluded with the singing of the Pater Noster (or the Lord’s Prayer, for my fellow non-Christians), which felt kind of comparable to a Christian version of the Pledge of Allegiance. Even as an outsider looking in, it was a powerful experience—the people around me, who had been chatting throughout the service in at least five discernible languages, all joined together to recite the same Latin words, variously accented by the inflections of their native tongues.

Rome is an amazing place to be for its ancient history, but the history being made right now at the Vatican is pretty incredible, too. Regardless of whether or not you’re Catholic, it’s definitely worthwhile to check it out!

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