Rome, Italy, Feb 20, 2013 / 06:50 am
The streets of Rome are beginning to fill with pilgrims coming to see Benedict XVI for one last time, bringing to mind the crowds that flocked to his predecessor and raising the question of how the crowds of the current Pope compare with those.
Father Christopher Kieran from the Pontifical Household told CNA Feb. 19 that the number of people attending audiences and Angelus prayers with Pope Benedict has been "very good."
He based his assessment on "the amount of work that we do on a weekly basis."
"We answer requests for audience tickets sent in by post and e-mail. And the response has been very high," Fr. Kieran said.
Vatican personnel and Italian security officers are expecting a large turnout for Pope Benedict's final general audience on Feb. 27 in St. Peter's Square.
So far, the preparations include moving in portable toilets, re-arranging crowd barriers and deploying extra police.
While numbers are not available for the amount of people who attended all the meetings of John Paul II in his last full year as Pope, it is possible to compare general audience crowd sizes.
In 2004, John Paul II received 507,400 people at 48 general audiences that were held either in the Paul VI Hall or in St. Peter's Square.
In 2012, Benedict XVI welcomed 447,000 to 43 general audiences in the same locations.
When the average attendance per audience is calculated, the two Popes have about the same figures. John Paul II's last year averaged 10,570 people per audience, while Benedict XVI brought 10,395 pilgrims to each gathering.
In the bigger picture, it becomes a little easier to assess the number of people who have seen and heard them.
Since his pontificate began in 2005, Pope Benedict has received 20,544,970 pilgrims in various assemblies, both at the Vatican and at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
When his papacy comes to an end on Feb. 28 at 8:00 p.m., Benedict XVI will have been Pope for 7.8 years.
During the last eight full years of Pope John Paul II's reign (1997-2004), he met with 5,207,100 pilgrims in general audiences and 4,000,000 people at the World Youth Days in Paris, Rome and Toronto.
Attendance statistics for his Angelus gathering each Sunday are not available to give an exact comparison with the overall meeting numbers of Pope Benedict.
However, in 2012 Benedict XVI prayed the Angelus and offered his reflections to 1,256,000 people. Assuming that John Paul II received the same number of people at his Angelus addresses, his crowds would total 19,255,100 people as compared to Benedict's 20,544,970 pilgrims.
When the final audience happens on Feb. 27, it will become apparent if Pope Benedict will receive one last bump in his numbers.