Pictures appeared yesterday showing Pope Francis, very cold, on a chair. He had no gloves, the caption explained.

I was on St Peter’s Square with thousands of people at the time this photograph was taken. Believe me, we were all easily as cold as our Pope, with the difference that some of us, like me, had arrived at 8 am for a 10:30 audience. We came with a tour suggested by our hotel; it took us from our hotel to Castel Sant’ Angelo, from where we walked to the Square. We soon realized that those hours were going to be a mild torture, a challenge bearable because so many of us, from all over the world, had come for the same occasion: to see and to listen to the Pope.

Are we Catholics some sort of human salmons needing to go back to our origins?

We still had about an hour to go when the crowds started stirring, exclaiming, “He is here!” Sure enough, on the two huge screens on each side of the Square, was a film of what was going on. At first, it was a question of finding where the popemobile and its precious passenger were. Several people had climbed on their chair, trying to find out the whereabouts of the Pope. To make a long story short, the Pope and his car went up and down the aisles especially prepared to that effect, with throngs of people on both sides held in place by barriers.

On the screen, we could see the Pope seemingly in great shape, radiant, with a huge smile, picking up babies handed to him, kissing them, and returning them to their parents. To some people he seemed to be talking. At one point, he even stepped down from his car to go and meet someone. In our case, he drove by twice, one time his back to us, the second time, looking at our faces, smiling. Seeing him energized us, and when he was within our sight, we all got quite excited and cheered him.

It was kind of him, as if he had taken pity of us for spending all this time waiting for him, to come and spend so much time with us on the Square.

At about 10:30, he went to his seat on the steps of St Peter’s Cathedral, and read to us some of his thoughts on the Resurrection of the Dead. Then began what seemed like an endless repetition of a synopsis of his speech, in the various languages of the pilgrims who had come to see him that day: French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Polish, and Ukrainian. Each time, a bishop, a cardinal or a monsignor of that language read his spiel, mentioning the national origins of the folks who had come, to their great delight. Each time we saw another dignitary showing up to read in another language, our hearts fell. This is one time when I missed very much women on the stage. Their absence hit me, and I wondered how the protocol would adjust to the arrival of women on the Vatican scene.

I have a hunch that each time a new language came up, our dear Pope got deeper into his chair, waiting for it all to finish. His pleasure at being with us, shown earlier that morning, turned into a show of stubborn fortitude, his being as resilient as each one of us on the Square.

This may turn out to be a once in a lifetime event for me. It is something Pope Francis does every Wednesday. He responds to this expectation we have, this need we feel, to see him so that we can show him we love him. He gracefully responds in kind.

Why is this need? From where does it come? I don’t know. I just saw my lovely husband, so cynical about the whole event, turning as excited as the rest of us when the Pope showed up.

I know our fondness for the Pope does not make sense to those who are not Catholic, as well as to some Catholics. I saw John Paul II years ago when he visited New Delhi and we were stationed there. His later declarations on women never made me want to come and see him in Rome. During Benedict’s time, I had planned on being in Rome when the religious sisters from the LCWR came to meet the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — I always think the D stands for ‘Defense’). I thought that my presence with a banner would be encouraging for the Sisters (!). My knee broke down and the trip had to be cancelled. But now we have Francis and it’s a different story.

I am happy we went to the Audience. I am flabbergasted the cold did not make us leave. I am stunned by the numbers of people, like us, with us there for him, braving the same bitter cold.

Does this make me less of a feminist? Somehow not. At some point, hopefully, Pope Francis will understand that women are the poorest of the poor, unjustly treated, suffering violence at the hand not only of the men next to them, but of society — and of the Church! And the Church could play such a great role of advocacy in the favor of women, if the men part of the Vatican system were not seemingly so afraid of them.

After the audience, Paul & walked  back into the city. We skipped St Peter and the Sistine Chapel. For all their gold and their fame, they have no appeal to us. Too much bling. Another time maybe we will feel differently.


Photo: Associated Press