Vatican City, St. Peter's Square, 11:55 a.m., Sunday morning... Crowds of people from all over the world fill one of the most evocative places on the planet. You can breathe in the anticipation, eyes are turned upwards, towards that one open window. Suddenly, a Red Carpet appears from that same window, the crowd quivers as they count down the minutes until His New Appearance.
The Cannon of the Janiculum and the Bells of the Basilica join in joyfully marking the hour so eagerly awaited by the multitude of people who have arrived in the square. It is, in fact, midday, and the applause indicates that the Holy Father is there, at the window, present, as he is every Sunday. His warm greeting comforts the souls of those who have come to hear his New Message of Hope and Peace.
But that is not the only reason for the many faithful to come to the square on Sunday morning. The Papal Blessing certainly plays a decisive role. After the Angelus Domini prayer, recited in Latin, there follows one of the most beautiful and pathos-filled moments: the Pope's blessing of all those present.
Year after year, Sunday after Sunday, St Peter's Square welcomes in a single embrace people from different ethnic groups and often from different religions. They come to be Witnesses of the most awaited Sunday Event and to receive the Pope's Special Blessing.
It doesn't matter if the weather conditions are bad, if the heat is overwhelming or if the pouring rain threatens the view, the only objective is to be able to see and hear the Pope's words. To get the blessing and to be able to say that you have been there.
And given the fabulous occasion, many people take advantage of the Event to bring along some cherished items, very often souvenirs purchased during the trip. The custom of blessing objects has a history stretching back decades. Its origin can be traced back to the Blessing of the Infant Jesus crib figurines by Pope Paul VI. It was back on 21 December 1969, when Paul VI stood at the window and blessed the statuettes brought by the Roman children. Since then, this entirely Roman tradition has survived to this day. Every year, on the third Sunday of Advent, a multitude of children from the different dioceses of the world gather in St Peter's Square, turning their Infant Jesus crib figurine upwards during the Papal Blessing.
The custom has become so strong that it has spread to other parishes, from northern to southern Italy, from Great Britain to the United States. The parish priests bless in communion with the Holy Father the statuettes of the Infant Jesus.