When we were with Henry in Rome two years ago during his infancy, we couldn’t get over how much Romans love babies. People (mostly men of all ages) would stop a business call, step out of their intended path or even throw a machine gun over their shoulder and step out of guarding duty, just to see Henry’s face. We joked, “When we go to the General Papal Audience on Wednesday, I bet even the Pope will stop for Henry.” And he did.
Fast forward to May 2018. Tom is four months old (as was Henry for his blessing), and we are in Italy. We have to try, right? We can’t fly all this way, be in Rome, and just not try.
So, we recreate everything we had done accidentally the first time. We go to the Vatican the day prior to retrieve an admission ticket, we show up two hours in advance as advised at the service desk for the General Papal Audience, we get a seat near the guard rail and we wait.
My parents are with us in Rome at this point and entertain Henry in the open space at St. Peter’s Basilica, chasing pigeons and running around a beautiful fountain as Tyler and I hold down the spot with Tom. I look around and there are no other babies near us. For some reason I start to doubt, “Yes, this is crazy. What are the odds of this?”
An hour goes by and another baby (absolutely beautiful, in stylish clothes and with an impeccably put together mother…definitely not living out of a Defender the past six weeks) shows up right behind us. Hmm.
Thirty more minutes pass and people are now coming in droves. Nearly 15,000 people today. A third baby across the way from us arrives. The mother smiles at us somewhat competitively. Maybe I make that up…but she seems assertive and cool to my joke, “Maybe if we space out we’ll all get a chance.”
The projection screens buzz loudly and then come into focus on an empty pathway. The crowd goes absolutely mad in anticipation. A man approaches the podium and acknowledges each group who has made the pilgrimage over a loudspeaker, and as their names are called, each of them screams and cheers and shake handmade signs in the air with excitement. This lasts about 25 minutes until the big moment comes, and out drives “Papa Francesco” as he is dearly referred to in Italy (and in a much more secure Popemobile than last time, framed with bullet proof glass now). He drives directly toward us and everyone is going wild as he nears, until his vehicle turns to the right just feet away from where we are standing, and our entire section deflates together with, “Awwwwww.” We watch on the screen, and everyone around us checks in with one another, “Is he coming? Do you see him? Where is he?”
People respect a baby, I might add here. Couples guard the rail like football players to assure we get front row. When a woman asks “Can I stand up there?” all I have to do is turn to show Tom and she makes prayer hands and bows toward me as if to apologize for having even asked. A woman behind me has travelled from Spain and has no interest in being in the front row if it takes away from Tom, but asks if I could get her hand written prayer request to the Pope should the opportunity arise. We offer that she and her father both stand with us and they are taken aback saying “No, baby, baby,” pointing at Tom.
The noise grows as Pope Francis comes near again, this time from the back. My dad has his camera in place and while I can hear the cheers and screams, and see the chaos on the film I took, in the moment it feels silent and casual. The Pope approaches, his vehicle comes to a stop, a nice man walks toward Tom, takes him, and lifts him to the Pope for a blessing, lowers him back to us, and then beautiful baby and competitive mom get their blessing (how kind to stop for all three!) and he rolls away again.
I look over and competitive mom gives a thumbs up. Spanish lady behind me thanks me profusely for getting her letter to the Pope (one of his security guards took it from me and placed it in the vehicle) and we all kind of breathe a sigh of relief. Although the odds were low, it still would have felt anticlimatic to walk away with a, “Sorry Tom.”
It felt like it was effortless, although, we did the same steps we had before so maybe there is a “Blessing 101” tutorial to be shared. Get a ticket, show up early, stand at the edge, receive blessing.
One doesn’t need to be Catholic to value the role of Pope Francis as the head of the Church. He is an exceptional man with a gentle heart who is living his faith out modestly. Who wouldn’t love to have a blessing from a man like that?
Here is Henry from two years ago as well: