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All roads lead to Rome, for pilgrims and runners

March 17, 2013|By Henry Chu
  • A picture shows shadows of runners taking part in the 19th Rome Marathon on Sunday. The marathon course came close to the Vatican, where Pope Francis was delivering his first Sunday Angelus blessing.
A picture shows shadows of runners taking part in the 19th Rome Marathon… (Tiziana Fabi / AFP/Getty…)

ROME – Snarled traffic, cheering crowds, well-wishers from around the world. Pope Francis’ first scheduled public appearance? That, and the Rome Marathon too.

The annual long-distance race clashed on the calendar Sunday with the new pope’s inaugural Angelus blessing in St. Peter’s Square, but both brought thousands of people onto the streets of Rome and Vatican City, including some who happily switched their attention between haggard runners clad in shorts and tank tops and a beaming pontiff robed in white.

The route for the 26.2-mile race passed within a few hundred yards of St. Peter’s Square, giving Monica Bernadoni a glimpse of both events.

“We decided to come and watch the marathon but are very happy that it coincides with the pope,” said Bernadoni, 42, who had colleagues competing in the race. Of Francis, she added: “We think he could give a boost to the church.”

The marathon was expected to attract up to 100,000 runners, plus supporters and spectators; probably at least as many people packed St. Peter’s Square to see Francis wave and deliver remarks from the papal study on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace.

City officials had insisted that the race go ahead even if, as many had expected, the pope’s official installation was held Sunday. (It’s slated for Tuesday.) Contingency plans were reportedly in place to delay the start of the marathon by a few hours and to move the route away from Vatican City to avoid any collisions between runners and those attending the installation ceremony, including heads of state from various nations.

But the marathon began at 9:30 a.m., as originally scheduled, and was finished in just under two hours, eight minutes by Ethiopian runner Getachew Terfa Negari, the men’s winner.

Neither did Pope Francis adjust his brief homily to suit the marathon – for example, by preaching on this verse from St. Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.”

Instead, he spoke of God’s patience and mercy, which perhaps resonated with some of the exhausted runners in its own way.

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Times news assistant Janet Stobart contributed to this report.

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