Vatican City — Each week dozens of newlyweds, dressed again in their wedding gowns and tuxedoes, come to the Vatican to receive a special papal blessing as they begin their lives together.
"It's always been a dream of mine, since I was little, to come to the audience and see the Holy Father and see the newlywed couples. It's always been a very special way to celebrate a marriage," newlywed Kelly Michelle Byrne told Catholic News Service.
The Australian bride and her Scottish husband, Geaspar Byrne, were married in Scotland Feb. 4 and were at the Vatican four days later to attend the weekly general audience with Pope Francis.
Couples from around the world who have celebrated their wedding recently are given special "sposi novelli," that is, "newlywed," tickets to the audience and are seated in the VIP section.
They have a chance to greet the pope and receive his blessing and a special rosary.
In their sharp suits and flowing white gowns, they stand out from the thousands of pilgrims waving flags and dressed in sporty attire. Complete strangers on the street or in the audience hall shout out congratulations and tourists take their photos.
Bravely sporting a plaid Scottish kilt despite the chilly temperatures, Geaspar said it was important as practicing Catholics for his wife and him to receive a blessing from the pope and to hear some encouraging words as they embark on their marital journey.
"Personally, I'm very positive on his messages about integration and thinking of other people. Everything he says is useful advice for marriage," he told CNS Feb. 8.
Couples married two months or less may request the special audience tickets. They will be ushered to the front if they arrive at the Vatican wearing their wedding attire and carrying a copy of their sacramental marriage certificate, signed by a priest.
Newlyweds from the United States come as well.
Mercy Sister Mary Juanita Gonsalves, assistant coordinator of the Bishops' Office for U.S. Visitors to the Vatican, told CNS that between 2014-2016, there were about "1,000 individuals who requested newlywed/'sposi novelli' tickets through our office."
St. John Paul II made a point of addressing a special greeting to married couples during the weekly general audiences in the first months of his pontificate. Since then, his successors have continued the tradition of greeting and blessing newlywed couples after delivering their catechesis.
Addressing the newlywed couples Feb. 8, Pope Francis encouraged them to "trust in the help of providence and not just in your own abilities."
"A marriage without the help of God cannot go forward; we must ask for it every day," the pope said.
Pope Francis "is very close to young people just like St. John Paul II was. When he speaks, it's in a simple manner that everyone understands. Today, he encouraged us to always ask for the Lord's help," said Marco Damiani.
Married to Stefania Dec. 8, Marco said that meeting the pope was a crowning moment after months of marriage preparation in their parish.
Stefania told CNS the papal audience was a sign of a new beginning in their lives together with the support of the church.
Catholic marriage is important "because there is a strength that is given to us. Doing it alone through your own strength isn't enough; you won't be able to go anywhere. It's like having another" helping hand, Stefania said.
When they met the pope at the end of the general audience, they told him the joyful news that they were expecting their first child.
"We asked him to bless us and the new child we are expecting, and he wanted to know when the baby will be born. We told him in September and then he gave us his blessing," Marco said.
Stefania added that Pope Francis also "told us to dream about the baby first," advice that ties into an image the pope often uses to describe how God cares for his children.
"We, each one of us, has been dreamed of by (God) like a father and a mother dream of the child they are expecting. And this gives us great reassurance," the pope said Oct. 13, 2016.
Catholic newlyweds aren't the only ones hoping to receive some encouraging words from the pope.
Seelan Mathiyaparanam, a Hindu, told CNS he enjoyed being with his Catholic wife, Camilla Yogaseelan, as they shared an important moment for her and her faith.
"It was very important for my religious belief that I meet the pope and receive his blessing. I would be really amazed if I get that," Camilla said before heading into the audience hall and having her wish come true.
She also said she hoped the pope "will bless us with a lot of happiness and love and that he will guide us on a religious path."
Simone and Elisa Corpo, a newlywed couple from Rome, said they were inspired by Pope Francis' "positivity and trust" in their new life together as husband and wife and that it was "important to receive his blessing."
"We will never forget this day," Simone said as Elisa smiled and added, "It's a special day, an emotional day; in one word: unforgettable."