The back of the Paul VI Audience Hall
It is a building that I've never found particularly attractive, but it does accomodate a good number of people. How many, I'm not quite sure.
The hall was still decorated for Christmas. It is the custom at least in Rome to maintain Christmas decorations through the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (February 2nd).
The Christmas tree in the Paul VI Audience Hall
We collected our tickets at the Casa Santa Maria, the house for American priests in Rome, the afternoon that we arrived in Rome.
Our tickets were green, of which we thought nothing. After finally making our way through the crowds and the security checkpoint, though, we discovered otherwise. The Swiss Guard directed us through a side door that led us to an area of reserved seating. Having arrived early, we were able to sit in the second row.
Christoph Cardinal Schonborn at the Audience, if a bit blurry.
When the Holy Father arrived and walked through the side doors, the room lit up. Everyone rose to their feet and began applauding his arrival and cheering for him. It was quite moving and the joy was evident on his face.
Pope Benedict XVI arrives for the General Audience.
I was hoping that I might be able to hear Pope Benedict XVI speak again about Saint Augustine but, being the week of prayer for Christian unity, he spoke on the subject of unity.
Pope Benedict XVI delivers his address.
After the Holy Father's address in Italian he offered a summary of sorts in various languages. His private secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, who sat quitely and rather still throughout the Italian, now came to the Pontiff from time to time with the various texts to be read. That's a job I shouldn't mind having.
Msgr. Ganswein hands the Holy Father a new text.
One of the more curious moments of the Audience occurred during the annoucements of the various groups of pilgrims present. In between the announcements, one couple took it upon themselves to stand up and sing Shubert's Ave Maria.
This is a difficult piece to sing and requires great skill. These two were good singers, but didn't quite have it done properly.
I found it greatly amusing to watch the expressions on the Holy Father's face and on Msgr. Ganswein's face. (I know I should've been praying but the moment was too humorous.) Msgr. Ganswein had a grin on his face and a look that said he thought he should do something but didn't quite know what to do. He kept looking to the Holy Father to read his reaction. His face was much the same.
As the various groups were introduced, Pope Benedict sat rather still, clearly the introvert, looking a bit uncomfortable, although it might be the chair. A comfortable arm chair is hard to find these days and that looks a bit big for him.
At times, he even played with his reading glasses.And yet, when the groups cheered for him his mouth opened wide and extended his arm toward the group and if they sang he often applauded them.
It was a wonderful experience and I am grateful to God for it.
Now, I know you're all asking: Did you get to kiss the Fisherman's Ring? Unfortunately that privilege was not granted to us. It seems that it is granted to few. Pope Benedict XVI simply is too great an introvert, a trait I very much appreciate and understand, being one myself.
Viva il Papa! Ad multos annos!