VATICAN CITY (AP) - Biker culture came to the Vatican on Sunday as
Pope Francis blessed thousands of Harley-Davidsons and their riders
celebrating the manufacturer's 110th anniversary with a loud parade and
plenty of leather.
Thundering Harley engines nearly drowned out the
Latin recitation of the "Our Father" prayer that accompanied Francis as
he greeted the crowd before Mass. Standing in his open-top jeep, Francis
drove up the main boulevard leading to St. Peter's Square, blessing the
thousands of people in what was a giant Harley parking lot.
Once the service got under way, bikers in their
trademark leather Harley vests sat in the square alongside nuns and tens
of thousands of faithful Catholics taking part in an unrelated, two-day
Francis addressed them both afterward, giving a blessing to the "numerous participants" of the Harley gathering.
Tens of thousands of Harley owners from around the
world descended on Rome for the four-day anniversary of the American
The main events were Sunday's Vatican blessing and a
parade Saturday past the Colosseum and other historic landmarks -
adding color, traffic and noise to an already colorful day in downtown
Rome, thanks to a gay pride march.
Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported that six
bikes were involved in a pileup Saturday on the main ring road around
the capital, while a Swiss biking couple were killed in a highway crash
Earlier in the week, Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based,
Harley gave Francis two white classic Harleys for the Vatican police
force to use.
There was something a bit incongruous about the
Harley crowd - known for its "Freedom" motto, outlaw image and
adventuresome spirit - taking part in a solemn papal Mass to commemorate
a 1995 encyclical on the inviolability of human life.
"Evangelium Vitae" is a roadmap of the church's
teaching against abortion, euthanasia and murder. Harley's advertising
for its 2013 bike collection reads "Live life on your own terms. More
than 30 ways to defy the status quo."
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman,
noted that there were probably quite a few Catholic riders in the crowd
and that regardless, anyone is welcome to a papal Mass.
"I know great people who have big bikes," Lombardi quipped.
In his comments to the pro-life crowd, Francis
offered prayers "for every human life, especially the most fragile,
defenseless and threatened." But he stayed away from saying anything
more polarizing about abortion or contraception.
He then spent a good half-hour after the Mass
caressing, kissing and chatting with a few dozen sick or disabled people
in the square, including one on a motorcycle wearing Harley garb.
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