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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


‘Vatican Girl’ disappearance: Italian prosecutors investigate teenager’s uncle

Rome prosecutors investigating the disappearance of teenager Emanuela Orlandi 40 years ago are looking into the possible involvement of her uncle following information supplied by the Vatican, Italian media reported on Tuesday.

'Vatican Girl' disappearance: Italian prosecutors investigate teenager's uncle

Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican employee, was last seen leaving a music class in Rome on June 22nd, 1983.

Decades of speculation followed over what happened to her, with suggestions that mobsters, the secret services or a Vatican conspiracy were to blame – theories which sparked a hit Netflix series.

The Vatican has been accused of obstructing investigation efforts over the decades, but eventually launched an inquiry into its most famous cold case in January.

READ ALSO: Rome opens new investigation into ‘Vatican Girl’ disappearance

Rome prosecutors in May then opened their own fresh probe – the third so far.

The Vatican recently passed its case files to Rome, saying they included “some lines of inquiry worthy of further investigation”.

Those include a letter in which a priest told the Vatican’s then secretary of state that Orlandi’s older sister Natalina had revealed during confession that her uncle, Mario Meneguzzi, had sexually abused her, Italian television channel La 7 said on Monday.

Orlandi’s brother Pietro, who has for years campaigned for the truth and believes the Vatican knows what happened to Emanuela, reacted angrily to the La 7 report.

“They cannot put it all on the family. I am furious,” he told the news agency AdnKronos, saying the Vatican had “crossed the line” by implicating his uncle.

Rome prosecutors are now reportedly looking again at Meneguzzi, who was only superficially investigated during the original probe.


Meneguzzi, who died several years ago, looked remarkably similar to an identikit drawing of a man spotted talking to Emanuela in the street after her music lesson, La 7 said.

He also played a key role in the months following her disappearance, answering the calls of the purported kidnappers, the report said.

Meneguzzi had ties to the secret service, and managed to get the family a lawyer paid for by the service, it said.

During the first, brief investigation into him, he was also warned by the service that he was being tailed by police, it said.

Meneguzzi told investigators at the time that he was out of Rome on the day the teenager disappeared, in the village of Torano, east of the capital, along with several relatives including Emanuela’s father Ercole, according to the Open online newspaper.

But Ercole Orlandi told investigators on several occasions that he was not in Torano that day, but in Fiumicino, west of Rome, Open said.

The Corriere della Sera’s investigative reporter Fabrizio Peronaci said on Tuesday he had also uncovered information that the kidnappers had insisted from the start that Meneguzzi be their point person for the ransom negotiations.

The twists and turns of the case were documented in a 2022 TV series by Netflix, “Vatican Girl”, though it did not look at Meneguzzi

In the documentary, a friend claimed the teen confided the week before she disappeared to having been harassed in the Vatican gardens by a figure close to then pope John Paul II.

Another claim often repeated in the Italian media was that she was taken to force the release from prison of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981.