It was a tough race through the ancient streets of the Italian capital and not just for the marathon runners.
Pilgrims striving to make their way to St Peter’s Square in time for the new Pope’s first public recitation of the Angelus had to contend with closed-off roads, an absence of taxis, and queues to get through a level of security we normally associate with airports.
For the faithful, these were but minor obstacles. They arrived early, and in vast numbers, packing into St Peter’s Square, waiting in eager anticipation for the Pope’s apartment window to open.
The day may have been dull, but the mood outside the basilica was buoyant. Chants of “Papa Francesco” rippled around the square like a Mexican wave.
Flags from a multitude of nations were held high, although the only Irish flag visible was wrapped around the neck of Robert Martin. The Dubliner was disappointed with the outcome of the previous day’s rugby match, but seeing the Pope had made the trip more worthwhile.
“It softened the blow of the rugby,” he said.
At 15 minutes to 12pm, the sense of excitement heightened when a window of the Pope’s apartment opened.
All eyes were on the four giant screens positioned around the colonnade. Then, at 12pm, the man they’d all come to see, appeared.
“Buongiorno,” (good day) he began, setting a relaxed tone for a speech those who could understand clearly enjoyed. He spoke only in Italian, but it didn’t seem to matter, everyone clapped and cheered. He drew laughs. He gesticulated with his hands. He showed he could work a crowd.
Breaking with tradition, he delivered off-the-cuff remarks about God’s power to forgive instead of reading from a speech. Then he said the Angelus, before ending his address with “buon pranzo” (have a good lunch).
It’s just six days since his election, but Pope Francis is already wowing the crowds with his honest and down-to-earth style.
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