In packed St. Peter’s Square, people crane necks for glimpse of pope
By Benedicta Cipolla
Catholic News Service
Pope Benedict XVI blesses a child as he leaves a prayer service in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.
(CNS photo from Catholic Press Photo)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Standing on tiptoe on the bases of columns, sitting atop parents' shoulders, binoculars in hand, and packed cheek to jowl into St. Peter's Square, people craned their necks to catch their first glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI.
More than 350,000 people turned out for the pope's April 24 inaugural Mass, some making their way to the Vatican well before the 10 a.m. start time.
Michael, a junior at Villanova University and a member of the Syro-Malankara Church, asked a passer-by where to find the start of the line -- 12 hours before the Mass was to begin.
His experience at the March 26 Easter Vigil, when he came within three feet of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, spurred him to return.
"I prayed to the Holy Spirit the last time I was here that I could kiss the pope's ring or somehow meet him," he said. "And then after Cardinal Ratzinger's election, I realized he's the pope now, and I had prayed to see the pope. So I had to come."
About 200 people milled about the square the night before the new pope's first Mass in public; a few lit candles and prayed. A small group of Polish pilgrims unfurled a flag that read "Always Faithful." Bedsheets with painted slogans hung from the windows of a school on the street leading to the square, declaring in Italian and German the students' love for Pope Benedict.
Italian officials set up a labyrinth of barricades from St. Peter's Basilica down to the Tiber River, blocking roads around the Vatican to the frustration of pilgrims.
Authorities called in police and medical reinforcements -- including units from Italy's northern Alto Adige region who could communicate with German-speaking pilgrims -- to handle the large numbers expected in Rome for the inauguration.
By 8 a.m. April 24, thousands had staked out their viewing posts, others taking a more leisurely approach by fortifying themselves with cappuccinos at cafes, reflecting the calm but expectant mood of the crowd.
While pilgrims found the experience of attending Pope Benedict's Mass exciting, most took a "wait and see" approach to the new pontiff.
Claudio, 25, from the northern Italian Piedmont region, said he thought Pope Benedict's background in theology would serve him well in his new office.
"This is a man who must tell society what he thinks," he said.
Teresa Vandre, 32, of San Francisco, said she was concerned about Pope Benedict's "conservative bent."
"I'd like to see the Catholic Church do many things, like include women and allow priests to marry, but those are pipe dreams with this pope," she said.
Many in attendance said the media attention since Pope John Paul II died April 2 would benefit the church, possibly increasing the unity of the faithful.
"A lot of non-Catholics have been asking me lots of questions. They want to know more, and that can only be a good thing, I think," said Jason Coeur-de-Leone of Mauritius.
Tara Termine of Killingworth, Conn., said the press coverage "has put the church back in the world's eye. In recent history people have lost interest in the religion, and it's important that this pope unite everyone again."
A Beijing woman studying economics in British Columbia took photos from the outskirts of the square as the pope appeared in front of the basilica, but from that distance he appeared as just a tiny dot on the screen of her digital camera.
"I feel so moved to see so many people. I'm not Christian, so I can't understand them coming to see one man, but I can understand their love and loyalty for their religion," she said.
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Contributing to this story were Carol Glatz and Eleni E. Dimmler.

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