Visiting Rome in March of 2013, I was still naive to travel planning. It was my first trip to Europe and I relied mainly on my brother to figure out our way and our game plan. There were a few places I had come across in the small bit of research I’d managed which sounded interesting. One of these places is The Vatican.

I knew just a few quick facts about The Vatican. Officially named the Holy See, The Vatican is a country all its own and home to the Pope. Every Sunday, The Pope opens a window on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace and addresses the masses gathered in a large square below.

That was about the extent of my knowledge.

Olive Branches for Peace - The Vatican, Holy See, Italy - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
Olive Branches for Peace – The Vatican, Holy See, Italy – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – www.MissMaps.com

 

We decided it would be worth the short walk through town to the tiny country of The Holy See to try to catch a glimpse of the Pope. Little did we know just how perfect our timing would be!

In March 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected to his current position as the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis’s first day serving as such was March 13, just a few days before our arrival in Rome. Sunday March 17th, he gave his first Angelus Prayer from the window of the Pope’s traditional residence (though he has chosen not to reside there, but instead keeps home nearby at the Vatican Guest House )

Click on an image to view the photo gallery up-close:

 

We joined over 100,000 others gathered in St. Peter’s Square early on the morning of Sunday, March 17th. When we first arrived, the streets leading to St. Peter’s Square were busy with vendors selling newspapers and flags, and we eagerly sought out the best place we could to stand in wait of the 12 o’clock hour. Amidst the construction and paparazzi-lined walls, we found our place and watched as magically the entire country filled up with festive Pope-supporters such as ourselves. At one point, I raised my arms above my head to take a photo over the tops of our neighbors’ heads. That was the last time my hands went below my shoulders for over an hour. During that fraction of a second, we were pushed even closer together, one more body, one more seeker, doing his best to squeeze into the domino box of a landing. When one person shifted, we all shifted. When another clapped, we all felt the vibration.

Moments before the Pope’s appearance, his window opened and two men threw down a large tapestry. The crowd instantaneously went from rock-concert loud to classical symphony quiet. Fortissimo to pianissimo. As Pope Francis spoke, his moving portrait was shown on a large-screen so that everyone could enjoy his speech with a front-row view.

Click on an image to view the photo gallery up-close:

 

When Pope Francis’s first Angelus Prayer concluded, the entire Vatican City erupted in cheers. Flags flew proudly in reds, greens, oranges, golds and more. Children sitting atop their fathers’ shoulders waved both hands in the air, bouncing rhythmically up and down with naive excitement.

He stepped back, closed the window, and the bubble of excitement which had contained us all morning popped with an explosive bang.

They came. They saw. He spoke. They left.

The crowd rushed away, clearing out of the Holy See as if in a rush to be somewhere more exciting on this Sunday morning. Ben and I stuck around. I had the idea to walk through the surrounding town, down calm side streets where shops remained closed and locals kept to themselves. Ben opted to go for a walk indoors, and entered into St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis's first Sunday appearance in his new role - Vatican, Holy See - March 2013 - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
Pope Francis – March 2013 – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – www.MissMaps.com

We agreed to meet up thirty minutes later.

Those thirty minutes came and went, and when we came together again, Ben was writhing with nerves.
I saw him. he told me. He was this close, he said, holding up his pointer finger and thumb to make a space not two inches wide.

After his prayer, The Pope had entered into St. Peter’s Basilica for a quick, intimate service in one of the back rooms. As he exited the church, he made his way down the aisle where Ben stood. Not realizing their proximity, Ben turned at the sight of a figure approaching from the left. It was indeed Pope Francis.

Click on an image to view the photo gallery up-close:

 

We happened to have been in Rome during the first week of Pope Francis’s leadership. and made our way to the Holy See that Sunday morning – a true example of “in the right place at the right time.” We didn’t think that place or time could get any more right until Ben’s happenstance encounter not thirty minutes after.

Leave a Reply