Up close and personal: My first papal audience

By Caroline Hroncich

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Pope Francis arriving at the general audience Nov. 20. (CNS photo/Caroline Hroncich)

VATICAN CITY–It’s difficult to not get swept up by the excitement of attending a papal audience, and this Wednesday was my first time.

St. Peter’s Square was packed with eager pilgrims all waiting for a chance to meet Pope Francis. With the help of Paul Haring, CNS’s senior photographer, I was able to maneuver my way to the front of the square.

It looked as though it was going to rain, but all qualms about the weather faded when Pope Francis entered the square. He appeared as a little white dot emerging in a sea of black suits from the left side of St. Peter’s Basilica, waving happily from the popemobile.

The only way to describe the reactions of the crowd when Pope Francis appeared is pure excitement. The square erupted in shouts of “Papa Francesco.” I snapped a few photos, and after Pope Francis passed by, I was allowed to enter the “VIP section” in the front of the square. From my vantage point in the front I watched as Pope Francis rode around and waves of people moved quickly from one side of the square to the other to get up close shots of him. People were standing on their chairs trying to get the best possible view of Pope Francis as he kissed babies and greeted pilgrims. It was pure craziness mixed with excitement.

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View from my seat at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Caroline Hroncich)

One amazing thing about attending a papal audience is being able to listen to the pope speak. You don’t realize how rarely you are given the opportunity to listen to Pope Francis’ voice. He is also an incredibly animated speaker and could barely say four words without applause erupting from some part of the crowd.

After he spoke, everyone in the square prayed the Our Father together in Latin, and Pope Francis descended to greet the handicapped. Watching him interact with people was one of my favorite parts of the entire experience. From my spot in the front, I watched as Pope Francis hugged and greeted hundreds of people, each one looking more excited than the last. Witnessing the pure joy on the face of someone who’s just met the pope is a truly spiritual experience.

When I returned to the office after being in the square for nearly three hours, Robert Duncan, CNS’s videographer, who’d been watching the live feed of the audience, showed me a screen grab of myself snapping photos on my iPhone while Pope Francis rode around in the popemobile. I’m in the little red circle — with my phone completely blocking my face — but it’s me all the same!

As an intern, I’m incredibly grateful to be able to get these kinds of opportunities. Regardless of how many times I’ve seen the basilica, it never gets old walking past the Vatican every morning on my way to work.

Caroline in action

Screen shot of me taking photos of Pope Francis.

Editor’s note: Caroline Hroncich is a student at Villanova University and she is interning at Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau for the semester.

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