You might think that your chances of seeing the pope while you are visiting Rome are poor to nil. Not true. You can score tickets for a Wednesday papal audience which takes place in St. Peter’s Square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. And, the best part about a visit to see the pope is that tickets to papal audiences are free.
Of course, you can go on Sunday and see the pope lead prayers at noon and hear him give a brief talk, but for this event, he simply appears at his papal apartment window. No tickets are needed. But, if you want to attend a genuine papal audience tickets are required.
Most Wednesdays at 10:30 AM, Benedict XVI holds an open air audience for thousands of people from all over the world. It is a formal event in which a passage from the bible is read and then the Holy Father gives a talk commenting on the scripture. Occasionally, the papal audiences are moved to the Paul VI Hall, close by St. Peter’s Square.
With St. Peter’s Basilica as a backdrop, the pope arrives for the Wednesday audience in his pope mobile dressed in white cassock and skull-cap. He is driven slowly through the crowd along paths created by barricades so that everyone gets a view of the smiling pope as he waves to people who have come from all over the world. It’s usually a joyous gathering of praying and singing pilgrims, many of whom are dressed in traditional garb.
When the pope arrives at his chair, a prayer service is held and then, one of the most interesting events of the morning occurs. The papal master of ceremonies (or another cleric) introduces groups who are present from various nations. The pope speaks several sentences in their own language and then the next group is introduced. Anticipation builds and cheers erupt as groups hear their name and country announced.
A group from the Congo may be introduced in French while another delegation from Tanzania is presented in Swahili. You will hear French, Italian, Spanish,Polish, English and many other languages. Expect to hear a roar when German groups are announced.
If you’d like to attend a papal audience, here’s how tomake your request. The Bishops Office for Papal Events handles arrangements. To get tickets, you must apply in writing(email is O.K., too) at least two weeks before the date of the audience.
Your tickets will be ready for pickup at the pilgrims’ office at the North American College the afternoon of the day before your papal audience. This office is located at the North American College’s graduate school (also called Casa Santa Maria), right in the center of Rome near the Trevi Fountain, a hugely popular tourist spot which you can find just by asking directions. You can read about all the details of arranging for and picking up tickets here. Be sure to go to the Casa near the Trevi Fountain and not to the North American College seminary to pick up your tickets. These campuses are a long way from each other
Want better tickets to the papal audience? Here are several ways to see the pope up close: Get a letter of introduction from your pastor or your bishop, especially if the parish choir or a particular group is going. A letter of introduction in itself can upgrade your tickets. Include it with your written request. If you are newly married, you are in luck. You can even wear your wedding clothes. The pope will give you a special blessing.
In your request, be sure to include the date of the Wednesday papal audience that you are planning to attend, how many tickets you need, and the name of the person who will be picking up the tickets.
The Holy Father does not have Wednesday audiences in mid-summer and some other Wednesdays are pre-empted. Be sure to check with the Bishops office to confirm your audience date.
Send your letter to the Bishop’s Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican, North American College, Casa Santa Maria, Via dell ‘Umilta 30, 00187, Rome, Italy. Apply six to eight weeks ahead of time if you are relying on the Italian mail system. You may also send your information by email to the Bishops’ office at email@example.com
You can make these arrangements yourself. If, however, you work through an intermediary, do not let them charge you for the tickets. Tickets to papal audiences are always free. But they must be picked up. They cannot be sent to you.
You can see the pope when you visit Rome A papal audience is an experience you will never forget. Just think, when you get back home you can say: “I saw the pope!”
The author is a cleric, has lived in Rome and attended many papal ceremonies.
Complete information on papal audiences, papal Masses and other events can be found at: Bishops Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican