We have pinned to our kitchen clipboard a Rome metro ticket. The ticket carries an unusual strap line ‘Roma salute Papa Francesco 13.03.2013’ – the city’s warm and respectful welcome to the new pope. The ticket reminds us of the Eastertide we spent in the city, when we joined with a crowd estimated to number 250,000 in St Peter’s Square. It was a joyous moment, with spontaneous singing and the crowd hanging on every word. All we could take from it (having no linguistic skill) was being part of something tremendous. I like to think that he waved to us – as an ecumenical gesture, but I might be mistaken. Part of the pope’s address that day was the Urbi et Orbi, a solemn blessing to and for the world.
On Friday last, Pope Francis stood entirely alone before the Basilica of St Peter. It was poignant to see this old man, alone, with the colonnaded square entirely empty, in the pouring rain offering words of hope and consolation to the world in desperate need; and to recognise that same blessing which had been shared seven years ago. He concluded his address with these words:
From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: ‘Do not be afraid’ (Matthew 28:5).