Since Dad and I would be heading to Florence later in the afternoon we had our bags stored so we did not have to carry them with us – a couple of our fellow pilgrims did the same
. Good thing too as security was equally tight today and the police were checking bags: handbags, camera bags, backpacks, et cetra. There were police from Rome manning the gates, Swiss Guard around the entire square and Vatican police positioned in the crowd as thousands of visitors arrived for blessing. It was a relatively fine day and gave me an opportunity to admire the piazza from a different angle once we took our seats. On the left colonnade they were busy restoring the statues of saints that ran from the basilica out to the state limit between Rome and the Vatican City: an example of what they looked like clean and why they needed to be cleaned was very apparent with the stark contrast between pristine white and sooty forms (something of a before and after). Most of our group sat together as those returning to the airport would need to leave at midday regardless of whether the audience was completed.
The papal audience began with the arrival of the cardinals, bishops and special guests who sat closest to where His Holiness would be seated: under the cover where the altar had been positioned for the canonisation of St. Mary of the Cross on Sunday. The queue for the arrival of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, was the emergence of four Swiss Guards armed with pole-arms taking station; two on either side of where the Bishop of Rome would be seated. Moments later the Pope-mobile ferried the Pope around the audience so he could welcome people from Australia, New Zealand, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, Canada, United States, Germany Austria, France, Poland, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Italy and Spain
. The origins of pilgrims were read out to Pope Benedict XVI in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Polish so it gave us all a clear understanding from where everyone had travelled. The audience then progressed to readings in each of the primary languages - English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Polish - and His Holiness responded with a homily in each of those languages as fluently as each priest presenting the English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Polish to him respectively.
The Pope then blessed those present and, by extension, their families back home, those members of their family who were now deceased and those experiencing illness. I could not help but think of my mother and how much she would have enjoyed the week so far.
This morning Father Stephen arranged for our last mass together in the boardroom of Hotel Galles. It was certainly less grand that in one of the basilicas we had used throughout the week but yet it still felt very much like mass. We gave thanks for the time we had together, for the opportunity to be present for the canonisation of St. Mary of the Cross, for our families back home and for those who could not be there. It was simple and effective. Although most of us had exchanged contact details during dinner the previous night it was also a last chance to get addresses from those we had gotten to know. While our group had split up yesterday to visit Pompeii, Florence, Assisi and Tivoli; Graziano had kindly lined up to get tickets for the papal audience in St. Peter's Square this morning. Thankfully we did not have to be there as early as we did with the canonisation, but being our last morning, we also had to organise ourselves to check out.