Pope Francis organized his first weekly general audience in public in six months on Wednesday, smiling and chatting with some of the crowd as they pressed forward to greet him.
The hearership, at which the pope declared a day of prayer and fasting for Lebanon, was held in the San Damaso courtyard of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
Nearly everyone among the listnership of 500 or so wore masks and sat in seats arranged to ensure social distancing.
Pope said, “After so many months, we began our encounters face to face and not screen to screen, face to face, and this is beautiful,” to applause at the beginning of the audience.
Pope Francis clearly enjoyed himself as he walked past guests who had clustered together behind barriers, frequently halting to converse with them from a distance of one to two meters (yards).
The pope last organized an audience with a public crowd in early March. After that, the coronavirus pandemic forced him to hold virtual audiences transmitted from the internet or the official papal library over television, an experience he portrayed as akin to being “caged”.
Pope Francis seems to look energized by the crowd – even though it was a far cry from the tens of thousands that can be held in St. Peter’s Square, where outdoor crowds are usually held.
Francis kissed a Lebanese flag that was passed to him by a Lebanese priest Georges Breidi and bowed his head to say a silent prayer for the country, still in shock from last month’s deadly port blast and rising sectarian tensions.
At the end of the hearership, he invited the priest to the front to lift the flag as the pope made an appeal for peace and dialogue in Lebanon.
He declared that Friday, Sept. 4 would be a day of fasting and prayer for Lebanon and that he was sending his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin – the number two in the Vatican hierarchy – to Beirut on that day to represent him.