Rome is at its best when there is a big event to organise. A city that is usually disorganised and chaotic transforms itself overnight into a model of good humour and efficiency.
The inauguration of Pope Francis on 19 March was no exception. In record time the city found itself coping with unknown numbers of people, 130 foreign delegations and a new pope full of surprises.
Following a day of constant rain and wind on Monday St Peter’s Square shone in splendour in the spring sun on Tuesday. All the seating, crowd barriers, security measures, medical teams and media linkups were in place without a hitch. Streets were cleared around the square, public transport was offered free of charge and walkways into the area around St Peter’s were kept open.
The square was not as crowded as had been expected but even if it had been the city had backup measures in the surrounding areas ready to go into action.
Romans were happy to receive their new bishop, Pope Francis. Voluntary workers abounded and street cleaners were almost as numerous as security guards. Young enthusiasts with “Year of Faith” sweatshirts handed out the specially printed handbooks for the inaugural Mass and invited people to move closer to the main square.
An old man leaning on one of the outer barriers didn’t want to move closer because he has just had an operation and was worried about his stitches. Two English women had come to Rome to see the Mick Hucknall pop concert further down Via della Conciliazione later in the day and had found a new pope as well. A woman from Argentina was keeping all around her happy with her enthusiasm and constant chatter.
Only a week earlier, at about the same time, the square had been almost empty before the Mass to inaugurate the conclave that elected Pope Francis. Now the cardinals, the Vatican ceremonial, heads of state and government, the leaders of other faiths, the Christian prayerful, thousands of journalists and camera crews all joined with the organisers of the city of Rome to welcome their new bishop and pope, the first from the new world, the first to call himself Francis and the first Jesuit to head the Roman Catholic Church.