If you’re visiting Rome, one of the most iconic and memorable things you can to is to see the Pope at St. Peter’s Basilica. And it is surprisingly easy to do so, with just a little bit of planning. Pope Francis makes himself available to the public usually twice a week if he is in Rome: at the Papal Audience on Wednesday mornings, and on certain Mass celebrations and the Angelus (where he speaks from his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square). You can find the Pope’s schedule here.
While tickets to the Papal Audience are free (but required) the entire process is simplified if you book with a tour group ahead of time. They do everything for you! This is a wonderful opportunity to have basically a hand-held experience…..they get your ticket for you, and there’s no confusion about where to go or how to get through security or where the best place to sit would be. If you can manage to show up on time, and follow instructions, you will be guided through the best possible experience.
I booked my tour through Dark Rome about 6 weeks in advance (I’m glad I did so, because it sells out regularly). I arrived on time by 7:45 and checked in. From there you are divided into different groups based on language, and given headsets so that you can easily hear your guide speaking as you walk. You will be taken through security, and since you have to send all of your personal items through the x-ray it is highly recommended that you do not carry anything that’s not absolutely necessary.
Once you are seated, it’s quite a long time before anything starts. Your guide will pass the time by explaining all kinds of things related to the papacy, the history of St. Peter’s, information about Pope Francis, etc. It’s all very interesting and helps to provide context about where you are and what you will be seeing. Eventually, Pope Francis will make his way through the crowd in his slow-moving jeep. Mind you, it’s slow enough for his entourage to walk alongside the vehicle, but it moves along at a very steady pace. Getting a photo was surprisingly difficult due to the crush of people that rush to the barricades. Our guide warned us about this. Still, with an incredible amount of luck, I got this photo of Pope Francis as he passed by me.
St. Peter’s square is enormous, and it took Pope Francis a good 30 minutes to make his way all around the square to pass by as many people as he could. The love that the people have for him is nearly tangible, and the excitement is incredible.
Here are a couple more shots I got from a distance as he weaved in and out of the pathways. It’s the fastest slow-moving vehicle you’ve ever seen. Very difficult to get a clear shot.
The rest of the audience is pretty uneventful. Although it is wonderful to see Pope Francis sitting up at the front surrounded by the cardinals, and lovely to hear him give a brief message (although in Italian), the remaining time is just hearing the same messages repeated in at least six different languages. The event is over by about 11:30, and it clears out quickly.
I highly recommend booking your Papal Audience with a guided tour group to simplify and expedite the process and to ensure that you get a great seat!
Grab Some Lunch Afterwards
Since the audience wraps up around 11:30, this is a great time to get some lunch! I found a place (on Trip Advisor) nearby where I had literally the best sandwich I ate in Rome. Panino Divino is a short walk from the Vatican and they offer a variety of panini. They have menus in several languages to make it easy for people to choose. If you are anywhere near the Vatican, THIS is the place you need to go for lunch. Amazing panini! I had the Merlot, which was porchetta with smoked cheese and sundried tomatoes, and I believe she added some chili oil which gave it a nice kick. With a glass of red wine, this amazing lunch was only 8 or 9 euros, I believe. The panini are big enough you can share if you want to keep it light, or you can just eat the whole dang thing like I did.