VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis held his weekly general audience in public for the first time in six months on Wednesday, smiling and chatting as he re-emerged from the constraints of the coronavius lockdown.
The audience, at which the pope announced a day of prayer and fasting for Lebanon, was held in the San Damaso courtyard of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace and gave him the public contact he thrives on.
Visitors had their temperatures checked as they entered the Vatican and nearly everyone among the audience of 500 or so – including Swiss Guards in ceremonial uniforms – wore masks. The public sat in seats arranged to ensure social distancing.
“After so many months, we resume our encounters face to face and not screen to screen, face to face, and this is beautiful,” he said to applause at the start of the audience.
Francis clearly enjoyed himself as he walked past guests who had pushed together behind barriers, frequently stopping to converse with them from a distance of one to two meters (yards).
The pope last held an audience with a public crowd in early March. After that, the coronavirus pandemic forced him to hold virtual audiences transmitted from the official papal library over television or the internet, an experience he described as akin to being “caged”.