VATICAN CITY — 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 Pope Francis as he greeted the crowd before Mass.
Standing in his open-top vehicle, Pope 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 pro-life rally.
Pope 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 manufacturer.
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.
During the last week, Harley-Davidson Motor Co., based in Milwaukee, gave Pope Francis two white classic Harleys for the Vatican police force to use.
In his comments to the pro-life crowd, Pope Francis offered prayers “for every human life, especially the most fragile, defenseless, and threatened.”