I had made attempts to discover how to get a ticket for the Pope's regular Wednesday audience. I had even written a letter, in the middle of August, addressed to Archbishop James Harvey at the Prefecture of the Papal Household, but got no response.
In the end, it was quite simple.
On Monday 19th, soon after arriving at Rome, I went to St. Peter's Square; and after a quick visit to the information office, I was directed to a door to the right of the colonnade (northern side). There was a Swiss Guard and another gentleman at the door; and I simply asked, and he gave me a ticket. It said "Ore 1030". Success!
So I proceeded with doing some of the things and visiting some of the sights and churches or Rome.
After two weeks of Mass in Italian, I somehow got the urge to hear Mass in English, so I decided to check out Santa Susanna, which is near Republica metro station. It is run by American Paulist priests, and is regarded as the church for American Catholics in Rome. So I went there Tuesday afternoon, and saw a note on the notice board stating that tickets for the Papal Audience would be handed out from 5pm on Tuesday.
5pm was not far away, so I hung on; meanwhile, the queue grew to about 30/40. It turned out they had all arranged in advance with the priest and he had all their names.
He advised us to get there about 0900/0930, and advised all to wear a hat and bring a bottle of water, because we would be exposed to the elemens, sun or rain.
So I set off next day; I didn't get off to a good start at Termini metro station, where a crowded train resulted in the doors closing on my arm and shoulder bag; but I pulled through successfully. Got the train to Ottaviano station, and walked the ten minutes or so south to the northern entrance to St. Peter's Square.
The queue and mass of humanity was fierce, and one could not tell where the queue began or ended; but the atmosphere was good, with American, Italians, Scots, and other nationalities mixing with good humour and patience. I could see through the columns, although the start time was over an hour away, probably just over half the seats in the square were occupied.
After the queue, we each went through the metal detectors, and all bags went through x-ray machines; then once into the square, you sit where you wish.
I decided to stay on the left side, and tried to get up into the top-left quarter, because it would be in the shade, with Bernini's columns between myself and the sun. I didn't expect to find seats free in this area, about 14 or 15 rows back from the very front rail. But I did.
Though the official start time was 1030, he actually came out soon after 1000 in his Popemobile; he came from the left side of the Basilica, and did a full circuit of the square so all could see him; except, of course, when some people decided to stand on the chairs and hold up flags and banners; so, I found myself doing the same and standing on the chair. The chairs are not particularly clean, and now I know why.
There were two sections on the "stage", to the left and right of him, obviously composed of special groups. I did see some wedding brides being escorted to the seats to the left side.
In case you don't have EWTN, this is generally what happens. One of the officials comes to the microphone, and greets the Holy Father on behalf of the pilgrims from a particular language group; on this occasion, first Italian, then French, German, English, Spanish/Portuguese, Polish; the official refers to special groups, such as "from such-an-such Parish, such-and-such city" which is usually followed by a cheer from the group in question. The Pope then makes his formal address in each language, today it was a commentary on Psalm 113.
Pope Benedict concludes with the singing of the Pater Noster in Latin.
Then he "pressed the flesh" on stage with who looked to be clergy and bishops, and then with the people in the large group to the left of the stage (as I looked). Some of the crowd in the square started to depart, but I started to edge closer forward, and I worked my way literally up to the fence as close to the stage as I could get.
The Pope was with the visitors for about 15/20 minutes, then he got into his Popemobile again, and slowly it started to come down the ramp (which was far to my right) and it approached the cheering crowd along the rail, and then turned right and slowly moved along the rail as he blessed the pilgrims.
The Popemobile proceeded to the wall to my left, where the sick and wheelchair-bound were lined up. He blessed them from the vehicle, but he did not get out of the vehicle at all except to take his seat at the microphone onstage.
Will I go again? Of course!! But I will arrive earlier and enjoy the experience more.