Attendance at the papal general audience in St. Peter's Square is a highlight of CHA's annual Ecclesiology and Spiritual Renewal Program for Health Care Leaders. Participants arrive at the Vatican several hours early to secure prime viewing positions. CHA's preferred spot is a football field-length away from the podium, but it puts the group within mere feet of Pope Francis as he makes two passes through the square in an open-roofed vehicle.
At the start of his general audience, Pope Francis blesses babies brought to him by members of his security guard. The babies shown here got picked from the crowd owing to a gracious gesture by Sr. Andrea C. Nenzel, CSJP, board chair of PeaceHealth. For two years running, she gave up her front row spot along the pope's path in St. Peter's Square so families could catch the attention of the security guards doing baby transport duty. At left, Pope Francis plants a kiss on a Slovenian baby on May 3, 2017. At right, a Brazilian baby is held aloft for the pope's blessing at the May 2, 2018, general audience. (Photo courtesy of PeaceHealth)
He greets an international crowd that numbers in the thousands from a canopied stage immediately in front of St. Peter's Basilica. VIPs fill the seats to the pope's left; on his right are newlyweds who come for a special blessing of their marriages. Many of the women wear their bridal gowns and veils.
The air is festive and the crowd joyfully exuberant. A choir entertains as the anticipation builds. The video feed to the jumbotrons gives the first sign that the vehicle carrying Pope Francis is entering the square. He stands at a post in the truck bed, smiling and waving as the vehicle makes a slow pass through the cheering crowd. It stops frequently as members of his security detail take babies from the outstretched arms of their parents to carry them to the pope for a blessing.
"Everybody from every nationality is there to be a part of this Body of Christ," says Sr. Andrea C. Nenzel, CSJP. "It's a mystery of faith that one man could hold that number of people in the palm of his hand."
Sr. Nenzel arrives at St. Peter's Square well before the crowds on May 3 to attend the papal general audience alongside other participants in CHA's annual Ecclesiology and Spiritual Renewal Program for Health Care Leaders.
Sr. Nenzel, who chairs the board of Vancouver Wash.-based PeaceHealth, has attended the papal audience as a participant in CHA's spiritual renewal program for two years running. Both times she has invited a young family seated further back in the crowd to take her unobstructed viewing spot along the pope's path. This gives them a good chance of catching the attention of members of the security detail. In offering their babies for the pope's blessing, the parents are recognizing their children as a gift from God, Sr. Nenzel says.
In May 2017, a family who had driven more than 13 hours from Slovenia to the Vatican had their infant and toddler blessed by Pope Francis owing to Sr. Nenzel's gesture.
Last month, Sr. Nenzel approached a Brazilian family to offer up her spot. That baby got a blessing and a smile from the pope too. In both years, the parents were moved to tears to witness the pope laying a gentle hand on their child; some members of the PeaceHealth contingent to the spiritual renewal program teared up too.
"A baby always touches your heart," says Sr. Nenzel. "The joy and absolute innocent awe of the parents to have their child blessed in this way touched people in ways I don't think they will forget."
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