Pope resumes public audiences for first time in six months

Pope Francis expressed his pleasure at being once again among his flock on Wednesday as he delivered his weekly general audience in public for the first time in six months.

Pope resumes public audiences for first time in six months
Pope Francis blesses attendees as he arrives on May 12, 2021 at San Damaso courtyard in The Vatican, to resume his weekly outdoors general audience with the public after a six-month absence due to the coronavirus crisis. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

He greeted a baby, signed a book, donned a hat someone gave him and chatted with children who had painted him pictures as the faithful – all in masks, unlike the vaccinated pontiff – lined up to greet him.

“I am happy to resume this face to face because I tell you one thing – it is not nice to talk in front of nothing, in front of a camera,” Francis told them as they sat on socially-distanced chairs to listen to his audience in the San Damaso courtyard at the Vatican.

READ ALSO: Vatican staff who refuse Covid vaccination could be fired

The pope abandoned his Wednesday public audiences when coronavirus swept across Italy early last year, instead delivering them via video link from the Apostolic Library.

They resumed in September and October – not in St Peter’s Square but in the courtyard with a limited crowd of 500 – only to stop once again due to a fresh wave of infections.

Pope Francis addressing attendees in San Damaso courtyard. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

The courtyard was not full Wednesday, but the 300 or so people who came expressed their joy at seeing the pope up close.

There was a cheer when he arrived inside the courtyard in a blue Ford.

“Pope Francis, we’re with you!” they shouted, standing on chairs to get a better view as he passed by.

A gust of wind lifts Pope Francis’ cassock. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

“It was lovely, to see him so close – he wasn’t in a hurry, he took his time,” said a nun from Rome who gave her name as Helene.

“He was happy to be with the people.” Thomas Viallon, 34, from Paris, added: “It was the first time we’ve seen the pope. We were really close. He seemed very close to the people.”

READ ALSO: ‘It was hellish’: Visitors slam ‘overcrowding’ at Vatican Museums

As the pope resumes his public-facing activities, the Vatican Museums have also reopened their doors to visitors.

The galleries opened to the public on May 3rd after a two-month closure due to coronavirus restrictions. But they won’t be packed with crowds, after visitors complained of “hellish” overcrowding last time the museum reopened in February.

Now visitors must book a specific time slot to ensure distancing.

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Pope to create new cardinals who may choose successor at Vatican City ceremony

Pope Francis will on Saturday create 20 new cardinals picked from the four corners of the world, most of whom could one day end up choosing the pontiff's successor.

Pope to create new cardinals who may choose successor at Vatican City ceremony

Francis has raised the possibility of retiring due to his declining health, a path taken by his predecessor Benedict XVI. If he were to do so, a conclave involving all cardinals aged under 80 would be called to pick a successor.

Sixteen of the 20 cardinals created Saturday would be eligible for that conclave based on their ages.

The ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica is the 85-year-old pope’s eighth since being elected in 2013 and includes clergy known for their pastoral work and, in some cases, progressive views.

All parts of the globe are represented, including new cardinals from Brazil and Nigeria, Singapore and East Timor, among others.

After this weekend, Francis will have chosen 83 out of the 132 cardinals currently qualified to elect a new pope. That is, nearly two-thirds of the total and precisely the percentage needed for any proposed name to pass.

In recent months, the pope has been forced to rely on a wheelchair due to knee pain, which he has said is inoperable.

He also suffers from sciatica, a chronic nerve condition that causes pain in his hip.

Future clues

The new cardinals are always scrutinised by Vatican observers for clues as to the future direction of the Church and its 1.3 billion faithful.

Experts caution, however, that cardinals named by one pope do not necessarily choose successors in their likeness.

The Argentine pontiff has this year completed a major shake-up of the Vatican’s powerful governing body, the Roman Curia, which makes winning new converts a priority.

In keeping with his focus on making the Church more inclusive, transparent and responsive to the needs of the poor and marginalised, Francis has chosen two Africans and five Asians, including two cardinals who hail from India.

Vatican expert Bernard Lecomte told AFP the pope’s choices are “representative of the Church today, with a large spot for the southern hemisphere”, where 80 percent of the world’s Catholics live.

Virgilio Do Carmo Da Silva, the archbishop of Dili, will on Saturday become the first cardinal of tiny East Timor, an overwhelmingly Catholic nation in Southeast Asia.

The pope has also felt free to bypass the archbishops of major cities to choose those from less powerful seats, such as Robert McElroy, the 68-year-old bishop of San Diego, California.

McElroy has supported gay Catholics and criticised moves to deny Communion to US politicians — like President Joe Biden — who support abortion.

The pope will also create the youngest cardinal in the world, 48-year-old Italian missionary Giorgio Marengo, who works in Mongolia.

The new crop of cardinals also includes Nigeria’s Peter Okpaleke, the bishop of Ekwulobia, and Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, archbishop of Manaus, Brazil.

The 80-year-old bishop emeritus of Ghent, Lucas Van Looy, had been nominated but asked to be exempted following criticism of his handling of child sexual abuse by priests in Belgium.

Saturday’s ceremony at the Vatican will be followed by the traditional “courtesy visit,” in which the general public is invited to greet the new cardinals.