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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‘I love Italy’: Jason Momoa apologises over Sistine Chapel photos

US actor Jason Momoa apologised after fans reacted angrily to him taking snaps in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel despite a strict photography ban.

'I love Italy': Jason Momoa apologises over Sistine Chapel photos

Anyone who has visited the Sistine Chapel will recall the firm and repeated warnings from security staff: “no photos, please”.

But there has been an outcry in Italy and beyond after ‘Aquaman’ star Jason Momoa apparently paid to be allowed to disregard this rule on a recent visit to the Vatican City with friends.

Momoa. 42, is currently in Rome shooting ‘Fast X’, the 10th installment in the ‘Fast & Furious’ film saga.

He posted snaps and videos of himself on May 9th posing below the famous frescoes painted by Michelangelo with friends and what appear to be Vatican Museums staff.

But disgruntled fans quickly pointed out in the comments that visitors are typically forbidden from taking photos or videos in the chapel.
“We can’t take pics but celebrities can, nothing against Jason (I adore him) but it’s not fair,” one person wrote.

“All I remember about that place was ‘no photos please’,” another person wrote.

Others took issue with a video showing him reaching over a rope barrier to touch a sculpture. 

“I cringed when he rubbed his hands on the art … not cool, dude,” one person commented.

On Saturday, Momoa posted another video in which he apologised for causing offence.
“If you ever thought I disrespected your culture, that wasn’t my intention,” he said in the video, in which he appears shirtless in the gym apparently following a workout.
He said he had given the chapel “a wonderful donation to bring my friends and crew because we only had a couple days off to go experience these places.”

“I would never want to do anything to disrespect someone’s culture,” he added.

“So if I did, I apologise and it wasn’t my intention. And I definitely paid to have that private moment and gave a nice donation to the church.”

The Sistine Chapel and the rest of the Vatican Museums complex is currently open to visitors as normal, following closures and limitations on visitor numbers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Regular online tickets cost €17 (around $21) via the official Vatican website. It is also possible to book a two-hour private tour of the Vatican Museums for €78 per person – though the booking website doesn’t mention any exceptions to the photography ban in the Sistine Chapel.