Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Connecticut Yankee in Pope Pius XII's Court

So at Thanksgiving this year, I was talking to my friend’s father about traveling in Europe. He’d had a chance to see a lot of it when he was in the service as a young man. He particularly loved Italy, which from all accounts is particularly lovable. Of course he’s also of Italian descent, and in those cases it seems like one is almost genetically predisposed to love Italy above all other places.

“I got to see the pope too,” he told me. We weren’t sure which one that would be. One of the Piuses, we concluded.

“Oh, yeah?” I asked. “For mass? Was he addressing a crowd or something?” I remembered all the images I’d ever seen of tiny men on balconies, blessing throngs of the faithful in Vatican City.

“No, I got to meet him,” he said proudly.

“What, like a personal audience?”

He explained to me how they have this whole set-up where they allow people to come into a cathedral or something, and the pope is then conducted through to meet and bless small groups of people. It’s not a one-on-one or anything, but it’s as close as you can get without being a head of state.

“And they had these little areas based on your country where you stood,” he said. “You stand behind these little barriers and he passes by them. So if you’re from Italy, you stand with the Italians. Or Switzerland or France or the United States. Everybody was represented.”

“And then he just comes through?”

“It’s a whole procession. And then each country had something they’d prepared for him. One group recited a poem someone had written for the occasion. Some other group had a gift they’d brought from their home country. Some of them sang songs for him.”

“Really? And what did the Americans do?”

He looked disgusted. “Not a damn thing. Every other group had prepared something to present to the pope. We just stood there and said hi like he was another tourist attraction.”

I nodded and took a drink of wine. “Yeah, that sounds like us,” I said.