Tens of thousands of pilgrims packed St. Peter’s Square and adjoining streets March 17 to hear Pope Francis deliver his first Angelus, saying prayers at noon and greeting pilgrims not only from Rome but from around the world.
The crowd, which nearly filled the square an hour before the pope appeared high above them in his apartment window, waved handkerchiefs, flags from their homelands, banners with names of religious movements or messages of congratulations to the new pontiff.
The pilgrims, dressed in winter coats, gathered under cloudy skies and cool weather. They were a mixture of all ages: children on parents’ shoulders, elderly couples, men and women religious, television camera crews and groups of teenagers. Some groups prayed quietly while others sang, danced and showed their support, not only of the new pope, but also of pride in their homeland as they held aloft flags or even painted flags on their faces.
As they awaited the pope’s arrival, many caught a glimpse of him on a Jumbotron television screen showing him greeting parishioners at the nearby Church of St. Anne after the Mass he had just celebrated. As people pointed to the screen, some noted that he looked like a parish priest simply greeting people outside after Mass.
Many in St. Peter’s Square had been in the same location a few days before when the new pope was announced, and few people knew much about him.
Four days later, this crowd knew quite a bit more about Pope Francis, and they were ready to welcome him and hear what he had to say. Several pilgrims who spoke to Catholic News Service said they were impressed with the pope’s simple style.
Gulsham Minj, a seminarian from the Archdiocese of Ranchi, India, studying at the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome, said it was a “historic moment” to hear the pope’s first Angelus.
He said he admires the simplicity of Pope Francis, saying it enables people to “feel the essence of Jesus.”
Onismo Makova, a fellow seminarian from Zimbabwe, said that when he first heard the pope’s name announced March 13 he was a little worried because he did not know about him and had not heard his name mentioned as a potential candidate.
But within a few days, he said, he became convinced that the cardinals’ selection was the “work of the Holy Spirit.”
Makova said being there for the announcement of the new pope and watching his first actions has deepened his own spiritual life.
Thaddeus Howard, a sophomore from the University of Dallas who is attending his spring semester at the Catholic college’s Rome campus, shared the same view as many other pilgrims. He was excited to be there and thrilled with everything he has seen and read about Pope Francis in recent days.
Howard, a native of Buford, Ga., said the pope’s simple actions of praying in a local church and even paying his own hotel bill “show how humble he is.” He said the pope is “living out how we are to live as Christians.”
Howard said he was initially thrilled that he would be in Rome for Holy Week. He never imagined the semester would also include a conclave and the installation of a new pope.
“I’m so happy. I’m so blessed,” he said.
He was not the only one feeling this way. When Pope Francis appeared in the window March 17, the crowd burst into cheers. They laughed when he greeted them casually, saying “buongiorno” (good day).
He proceeded to speak only in Italian but appeared to often speak off the cuff, telling an anecdote to illustrate God’s unending mercy. Less than 15 minutes later, after praying with the crowd below and asking for their prayers, he told them to have a good lunch and departed.
The crowd shouted “Viva il papa,” then people slowly worked their way through the packed streets of Rome.
– VATICAN CITY (CNS)
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