It was a Wednesday, when Francis held his normal weekly general audience. Generally speaking, these audiences attract perhaps 10,000 people, and rarely does that kind of crowd in the vicinity of the Vatican cause a disruption to traffic flows. On this day, however, Roman authorities estimated that Francis drew a crowd of at least 50,000, and perhaps as many as 80,000.
Given that influx of humanity, the broad avenue of Via della Conciliazione was temporarily converted to a pedestrian zone three-quarters of the way down to the Castel Sant’Angelo, reflecting this pope’s early reputation as a magnet for humanity.
In part, the usual Wednesday crowd was swelled due to tens of thousands of pilgrims from the Italian region of Triveneto, who were accompanying the seven bishops of their region on their ad limina visit.
The crowd, however, also included a large cross-section of pilgrims from various parts of the world, including an unusually large turnout of tourists in Rome who simply wanted to see what all the fuss is about regarding the new pope.
The pope opened the audience with his now-familiar long swing through the crowd at the beginning. One pilgrim presented Francis with a new zucchetto, the white papal skullcap, which the pope immediately put on in place of his own.
In his remarks during the audience, Francis spoke on the Ascension of Jesus. He said it does not mean that Christ is absent to humanity, but rather that he’s present “in a new way.”