Special Envoy to Marseille
When does the pope arrive?" exclaims a little girl barely taller than three apples to her parents who try to contain her impatience. The child was, like thousands of people this Saturday afternoon, the privileged witness of the passage of Pope Francis on the Avenue du Prado, a few hundred meters from the velodrome stadium of Marseille where a gigantic mass took place.
This papal stroll, the penultimate stage of a historic journey with meticulous organization, meant a lot to the faithful and curious who came to celebrate the arrival of the head of the Catholic Church. Less than 24 hours after the pope's arrival in Marseille, a first in 500 years, they were already a few hundred to mass behind the security barriers of this avenue specially emptied for the occasion.
His coming is unexpected," says Hervé, met at 10am along the Prado and who says he is living this moment as a "pilgrimage". Further on, the family of Jeannine, 70, is ironic. "We sent a message to the pope, and he came to see her for her birthday!" says one of her relatives with a smile. "We are Catholics, it's very important for us," she adds, happy. Sitting in the shade with her children, Dorothée shares the same observation. "We are believers and practitioners. He is one of the people you want to see at least once," said the woman who saw John Paul II in 1998.
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Consequent security device
However, there was no crowd in the morning before the arrival of the sovereign pontiff, scheduled for shortly before 16 p.m. The few curious already installed after the opening of the barriers at 9:30 were already solicited by a cloud of cameras and journalists collecting first testimonies. It is also impossible not to miss the impressive security device set up for the occasion.
Many police and gendarmes crisscrossed the avenue throughout the day. Nicolas Farmine / Le Figaro
Some 5000,<> police and gendarmes were deployed this weekend in Marseille to guarantee a secure papal visit. A large part of this workforce was present along the Prado, according to the many checkpoints and excavations scattered along the few hundred meters of the avenue. A brake according to some spectators. "The security device makes it difficult to access," confirms Sylvie, who has been from Marseille for twenty years. "It's reassuring, but it can be discouraging with all these controls," she says.
As a result of this impressive police presence, one side of the avenue, accessible only by going around the Prado roundabout, was almost empty less than an hour before the walk. "They could have balanced and put people on the other side," she sighs. Message heard: a few minutes later, a security cordon improvised by riot police opened the way for several hundred people on the other side of the avenue.
"It's okay, we've seen it!"
A few minutes before the long-awaited passage, the entire avenue was finally filled with spectators who could no longer hold in place. "Be careful, darling, you're going to miss it!" said a mother to her son whose gaze was averted from the avenue. "You have flags, are you good?" asked municipal officials responsible for distributing small pieces of cloth in the colors of the France and the Vatican.
The barriers of Prado Avenue were gradually covered with spectators as the pope's arrival approached. Nicolas Farmine / Le Figaro
For many spectators disappointed to have missed a place in the velodrome stadium for the 16:15 p.m. mass, the stroll was an opportunity not to be missed. "I couldn't get involved in the velodrome because of my job," says Patricia, a caregiver. "It's a treat to see him here in Marseille. We need this air bubble," she says.
A thunderous applause is then heard. It is 15:50 pm when a procession composed of motorcycles and screen-printed cars arrives on the Prado. Behind, the famous "popemobile" rolls in step, surrounded by a wall of bodyguards. Pope Francis is there, sitting in the back of the vehicle and greeting the crowd with a solemn air. The moment lasts less than a few seconds, transcending the crowd cheering the pontiff, before seeing him slowly disappear in the direction of the velodrome stadium.
The Prado then emptied of its spectators in a few minutes, as if the event had never existed. "So, did you get a picture of it?" a father asks one of his children. "It's okay, we've seen it!" reacts a young man, his phone screwed on his ear. "We had trouble coming, many areas were closed, but there were fewer people than I imagined," said Antoine, 22, who arrived on the avenue about thirty minutes before the pope's walk with his father. "I came more out of curiosity than belief in religion, but it makes a great event to see with my family," he sums up soberly. An event that will certainly remain engraved in their memory for a long time.