Vatican City • Thousands of couples from some 30 countries gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Feast of St. Valentine on Friday, receiving a blessing from a visibly pleased Pope Francis, who also gave them his advice on how to have a happy and successful marriage.
The event was originally supposed to take place indoors, but organizers moved it outside as interest grew. Estimates ranged from 10,000 to 15,000 couples, some married, some engaged, partaking of an unusually crisp and sunny day in Rome, which has been pounded by heavy rains in recent days.
“My dear engaged people, you are getting ready to grow together, to build a home, to live together for good,” Francis said. “Do not just base it on those feelings that come and go, but on the rock of true love that comes from God.”
He added that couples should not get married once their problems are solved, but rather solve problems together.
“Today, many people are afraid of making definitive decisions that affect them for all their lives because it seems impossible,” Francis said. “This mentality leads many who are preparing for marriage to say, ‘We will stay together as long as our love lasts.’ Just as God’s love is stable and lasts forever, we want the love on which a family is based to be stable and to last forever.”
On Twitter, the pope took advantage of Valentine’s Day to tweet: “Don’t be afraid to marry. A faithful and fruitful marriage will bring you happiness.”
The feast day, named for the third-century saint who died Feb. 14 on the outskirts of Rome, is not usually celebrated in such grand fashion. It wasn’t clear if the event will become a regular tradition under Francis.
It got underway at 11 a.m. local time with a series of testimonials from couples mixed with music and readings. At 12:30, Francis arrived in the popemobile and circled the square before making his way to the altar to meet several couples personally, bless the crowd and offer his advice.
“I have seen all the popes since John XXIII, and Francis is the most humane,” said 75-year-old Anna Pollio, who came to the event to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary with her husband, Michele Iaccardo, 79. “I am very pleased to celebrate this momentous date with the pope.”
Enzo Stafferini, a 32-year-old businessman engaged to 24-year-old Alexia Costantini, a bartender, agreed.
“Francis is a figure who comforts us in the difficulties that young people face, both material and spiritual,” he said. “Francis helps me find courage.”