A Newlywed Blessing
by Anna Capizzi Galvez
On August 28, 2019, exactly two months after our wedding day, Walter and I held Pope Francis’s hand and he blessed our marriage.
It was an incredible, once in a lifetime experience that we won’t soon forget.
Referred to as the “sposi novelli” blessing—sposi novelli translates to newlyweds—Pope Francis blesses couples married within the past two months at the conclusion of some Wednesday General Audiences at the Vatican.*
Depending on the weather, the audience can be held outside in St. Peter’s Square or inside the Paul VI Hall. The audience on August 28 was held outside and it was a blistering hot day.
Most ladies wore their actual wedding dresses, but mine was far too big to lug across the Atlantic, so I opted for a simple white dress. Men wore suits (blue must be in style!)— I only saw one wearing a tuxedo.
Thanks to solid advice from a friend who attended a sposi novelli blessing a couple months before, we came prepared with sunblock, hats, water, snacks, and an umbrella to block the sun. As funny and weird as we looked, we were grateful to have them since the event lasted several hours, and much of it required standing and waiting.
Walter and I woke up early (again following the advice of our friend who had scored a front row spot and picture with the pope) to get in line for security outside St. Peter’s Square a little after 6:00am and there were already a handful of couples ahead of us, along with other pilgrims.
We waited at least two hours for security to let us all pass, and the line behind us quickly grew. By 7:00 am, the line was already wrapping down the street.
Finally, security let us through. An attendant pointed us to the right of the stage set up in the square, close to St. Peter’s Basilica. Another attendant checked our marriage license, looking for the date. They led us to an area roped off for newlyweds and directed us where to sit.
We didn’t have tickets, since they aren’t required during the month of August, but our marriage license was checked at two different points.
I was a little disappointed to be placed in the third row, closest to the barrier on the right side. I motioned to the guard, asking if we could sit in the front row, which was mostly empty. He said no.
Oh well, I thought, it’s enough to be here so close to the pope and taking part in this experience.
Couples continued to file in, easily 100 people. We sat next to a couple from Germany and chatted for a bit. It was fun to see all the couples from around the world and feel the buzz of excitement.
When else in our lives would we be sitting with a group of people dressed up in their wedding attire? What else would motivate us to do this besides a love for God, for the Church, and for our spouses?
Walter and I took a moment to pray quietly together and be grateful for this opportunity.
The audience started around 9:30 am. Pope Francis continued his series of reflections on the Acts of the Apostles. Since he spoke in Italian, we had to look up the text later. After his reflection, clergy who are interpreters of several languages, English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Polish, Arabic, etc., translate a greeting from the pope.
Pope Francis also offered a special message to young people, the elderly, the sick, and newlyweds: “Today we are celebrating the memory of St. Augustine, bishop and doctor of the church. I invite you all to allow yourselves to be inspired by his holiness and his doctrine. Together with him, rediscover the way to the inner life that leads to God and to our neediest neighbor,” he said.
Much to our surprise, at the end of the audience, the attendants came right up to the barrier on the right side where we were seated and removed a piece of the barrier. Apparently the section we had been sitting in was not our final destination! They began to select couples to pass through and line up along another barrier that was parallel to the front of St. Peter’s Basilica.
It got a little crazy at this point, to be honest! Brides were appealing to the guard to let them through and the guard nicely told them to calm down. Walter and I were lucky, we were standing in an ideal spot next to the opening and after a little while the guard let us pass, so we ran to the front of the new barrier.
We were thrilled!
This was a great time to work on the virtue of patience, as there was more waiting to be done. The pope first went to the area in front of stage, out of our sight, where he greeted individuals. Then he went to the side section, to the left of us. We watched him slowly work his way to the middle section, our anticipation growing!
At last, it was our turn. He held our hands and we said hello.
I felt such a great rush of affection for him. The task on his shoulders—leading the Church—is enormous, but his love for his sheep—for us—was obvious in the way he carefully greeted and spoke to each couple.
He blessed us and slowly moved on.
Wow! The wait, the heat, the travel, all worth it.
If we could offer any advice to other engaged couples, we would encourage them to pray about receiving the sposi novelli blessing. It’s a unique opportunity and one that will enrich the start of married life.
Those interested should contact the Visitor’s Office at the Pontifical North American College for more information and to request tickets. The papal audience schedule can be found here.
*I have heard that some couples get an exemption to the two-month limit, but I’m not sure how flexible it is.