Busy Sunday in Rome

Many of Rome's streets were closed to traffic on Sunday 17 March to facilitate the 19th Rome Marathon which was won by Ethiopian Getachew Terfa Negari with a time of 2:07:56. He was followed by his compatriot Girmay Birhanu Gebru who finished in 2:08:11, while third place went to Kenyan Stephen Chemlany, with 2:08:30. The fastest woman was Kenyan Helena Kirop with a time of 2:24:40 – setting the marathon’s third fastest woman's record.

The paralympic champion Alex Zanardi sealed his third victory in the marathon's handbike race, crossing the finish-line first in 1:12:15. This year the popular 42-km marathon attracted 14,000 subscribers: some 8,000 Italians and more than 6,000 foreigners. Well over 10,000 people crossed the finish-line within the seven-hour limit, with Maryland citizen David Chandler Hill gaining the distinction of being the last with a time of 6:51.

A large banner at the marathon start/finish point on Via dei Fori Imperiali offered greetings from Rome to the newly-elected Pope Francis, who gave his first Angelus address at midday in St Peter’s Square to a crowd of about 150,000 people. His speech from the papal apartment began with "Buon giorno" and ended with "Buon pranzo", in what is now coming to be recognised as his humble and informal style of speech.

The pope told his audience that he had chosen the name of Italy’s St Francis of Assisi "to strengthen my spiritual link with this land where as you know my family origins come from." Earlier that morning the pope celebrated Mass inside the Church of S. Anna, his local parish church inside the Vatican, and later surprised many by going outside to shake hands with the crowd.

Among the crowds in St Peter’s Square were thousands of Irish people, many of them visible by their green rugby jerseys, on what also happened to be St Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s national feast day. The Irish were in town for the Six Nations rugby match in the Olympic Stadium the day before, when Italy beat a lacklustre Irish side by 22-15 points – the first time the Azzuri  have ever beaten an Irish rugby team. 

Sunday was also the 152nd anniversary of the unification of Italy, an event marked by Italy’s president Giorgio Napolitano who laid a wreath at Rome's Altare della Patria. The president was joined at the Quirinale by senior political and military figures, including the newly elected presidents of both houses of parliament, Laura Boldrini who is president of the chamber of deputies, and Pietro Grasso, president of the senate. Throughout the day the Quirinale gardens were open to the public.

The ceremony was closed with an aerobatic display by the Frecce Tricolori which left plumes of the Italian tricolour's green, white and red in the sky over Piazza Venezia.