Crowds of giddy 11 and 12-year-olds cheering wildly and screaming the name of their idol, taking photos on their phones and desperately reaching out with their fingertips for a passing touch.
Schoolchildren gave the Pope, who has been credited with sparking a revival of enthusiasm for the beleaguered Catholic Church, a reception akin to that of a rock star as he paused to chat to them on his weekly general audience at the Vatican.
As they screeched 'Papa, papa!' (the Italian word for 'pope'), the Holy Father showed his famous knack for engaging with youngsters by asking if anyone fancied joining him in his official vehicle, long nicknamed the 'popemobile'.From the mob of kids frantically shouting 'Io, io!' (Me, me!), Pope Francis chose two 11-year-olds, Livio Bastianelli and Davide Maria Bianchi, who scrambled over the barrier with the help of the Pope's aides and into the open car.
From the back of the papal jeep, the boys got a first-hand look at life as the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, both looking on in awe as the Pope met with deafening cheers on all sides.From the crowds, which have frequently numbered as high as 25,000 since Pope Francis replaced Benedict XVI last year, babies and toddlers were hoisted into the air to receive a blessing from the pontiff. Trinkets including a shirt were thrown as gifts (thankfully no knickers, Tom Jones-style).
But even when mobbed by swarms of the faithful, the Pope did not forget his young companions, at one point turning to ask "Vi piace?" - are you enjoying it? He joked with the boys that it was an 'unscheduled trip'.
Pope Francis' miniature youth outreach effort made a strong impression on the lucky youngsters. After his ride, young Livio told an Associated Press reporter: "I was really excited. That never happens!"
It is not the first time that the Pope has departed from custom, to the delight of his audience, who seem to appreciate his down-to-earth approach. For his recent Palm Sunday homily, the 77-year-old surprised listeners by seeming to abandon his prepared remarks in favour of an entirely improvised address.