By Emily Antenucci
VATICAN CITY — A warm sun and clear blue skies made for the perfect atmosphere at the papal audience today, where Pope Francis spoke about this first week of Lent. Posters, flags, flowers, hats and more were waved in the air as Pope Francis made his way around St. Peter’s Square in his shiny, white popemobile.
Waiting for him to come my way, I couldn’t help remembering the papal audience with Pope Benedict XVI I attended just four years ago. Although I was only 16 at the time and my memory of that day is a bit faded, the first difference I noticed was the audience’s attitude and tone. The energy this morning was high — there was excitement in everyone’s eyes and there was a clear eagerness in the crowd to see and be blessed in person by the genuine, down-to-earth man that dons all white. While I remember young people were the audience four years ago, their number has now skyrocketed.
What is it exactly about Pope Francis that brings in the “young” population? As the one year anniversary of the pope’s election March 13 approaches, I thought I would stick around after the audience to ask a few people their opinion.
“Pope Francis is not only wonderful and down-to-earth,” Ruth Figura of Belleville, Ill., told me, but his energy “will bring young people back to the church while renewing the faith of others as well.”
I spoke to a few Fairfield University alumnae (Maya Abinakad, Ariana Michaloutsos, Ashley Doran, and Kelly Mahon) who were visiting for a few days. They told me, “Pope Francis is modernizing things. He is pulling in young people because he makes connections and is more likeable.”
Almost everyone I spoke to use the words “loving,” “likeable” and “human” to describe Pope Francis. They see young people being influenced by Pope Francis and finding or restoring their faith in the church. On the other hand, those who are considered “older” or have been involved in the church for years expressed their respect for Pope Francis, particularly as a pope who can appeal to young people.
What do you think? Why is Pope Francis drawing more people to his audiences? If you could describe his first year as pope in one word, which word would you chose?
Emily Antenucci is an intern in the CNS Rome bureau while she attends Villanova University’s Rome program.