The Day I Startled Pope Benedict

Leroy HuizengaBlogLeave a Comment

I have so many thoughts about Benedict and his abdication and retirement I don’t know where to begin. I’ll probably write something more formal for First Things in coming weeks about it, but tonight I was thinking about the time I startled the Holy Father.

It was the summer of 2009, if I recall correctly. I was in Rome with good friends Rodrigo Morales and Dave and Heather Moffitt for the annual international meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. We rented an apartment together in the Jewish quarter for ten days, planning on doing quite a bit of sightseeing and feasting around the conference’s three-odd days.

Of course that meant going to the public papal audience. I wasn’t Catholic yet, but when in Rome, right? So we got tickets, not hard to do, and got in line about seven that Wednesday morning. Makes for interesting people-watching and encounters; I happened to meet then-Archbishop Dolan as he was meeting up with some seminarians.

So then the audience. The typical stuff: greetings to the pope, greetings from the pope, musical groups from all over getting to play for 30 seconds, catechesis in Italian, blessing of religious articles, and then the Pope makes a final spin around St. Peter’s square in the Popemobile.

As Providence would have it, I was way up front left with a bunch of pilgrims from–where else?–Mainz, Germany. And so we hatched a plan to greet the Holy Father in his native Deutsch when the Popemobile came round.

Popemobile approaches, and…Ein, Zwei, Drei: Wir lieben dich, Heiliger Vater! at the top of our Teutonic lungs. I suppose we were 15 meters away, give or take, so the Holy Father heard us good and spun round in the Popemobile, startled, then gave us a warm smile, the trademark kindness and joy in his eyes.

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