New Zealand Embassy Rome, Italy

A front row view of the Pope’s inaugural Mass

Getting in place for Pope Francis’s inaugural Mass on Tuesday 19 March at 9.30 meant an early start.  We were allocated a departure time from our hotel on the Via Veneto at 6.30 am, complete with motorcycle outriders. 

The Attorney-General, Hon Chris Finlayson, who had previously studied in Rome to perfect his Latin, represented New Zealand at the ceremony.  

The Minister was attended by two Ambassadors as a result of the peculiarities of the Vatican’s status in relation to Italy: Ambassador to the Holy See George Troup (based in The Hague), and Ambassador to Italy Trevor Matheson. 

George, attired in the prescribed white tie and tails, was seated with the Holy See diplomatic corps down on St Peter’s Square, while Trevor accompanied the Minister in the VVIP enclosure around the altar up on the forecourt in front of St Peter’s basilica. 

On the way to our seats we passed through the Basilica, which looked strangely deserted without the usual thousands of tourists. There was time to pose in front of the canopy above the Papal altar.

The two hours or more before the start of the Mass were well used for networking with other delegation leaders (particularly those with whom we do not have direct diplomatic links) in furtherance of New Zealand’s campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council; in this regard, Trevor’s experience with developing country delegations at the FAO proved invaluable. 

Vice-President Biden of the US spoke warmly of the relationship with New Zealand.  Other attendees of particular note included President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina (the new Pope’s home country) and the soon-to-be King and Queen of the Netherlands – the latter an Argentinian.

From the Ambassadors’ seating there was a good view of the Pope in the Popemobile arriving to celebrate at the Mass. The organisers had managed to pick the only fine day in the week to schedule the Mass – just as well, as it would have been held outside whatever the weather.

The ceremony itself was carried live on television to billions of people around the world.  For the guests who had received the handsome booklet it was apparent that, in keeping with his emphasis on simplicity, the Pope had cut out sections from the printed order of service, bringing the length of the Mass down to two hours compared with over three hours for his predecessor eight years ago.

Following the Mass there was an opportunity for Heads of Delegation to greet the Pope inside the Basilica. This involved a lengthy wait, as royalty and Heads of State went straight to the front of the queue ahead of Ministers.

The Pope seemed understandably weary by the end of the audience, but our Minister’s presence was clearly registered with the Pope and his entourage.

A personal commentary from Ambassadors Troup and Matheson in Italy

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