My unexpected and somewhat bizarre Papal audience

The Pope arrives at the Mass (CNS photo)

As I was packing up after Pope Francis’ Youth Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Rangoon, Burma had ended, I cursed my bad luck at not being able to shake his hand.

I came close to catching a glimpse of him when the Popemobile sped past me unawares. I was in a crowd 10 deep so there was little chance I was going to see anything at all. I barely caught a sight of his white attire and couldn’t see his face.

Imagine my surprise when I looked up and saw the Pope coming right towards me. This is not as odd as one might think. It seems that he, as was his custom, simply ignores all warnings from his guards and walks amidst the people. He’s shown himself to be a trusting individual. He was walking hand-in-hand with a much taller man who served as his handler.

His Swiss Guards were nowhere to be seen and, to be frank, please excuse the pun, he seemed a bit sleepy and in need of a nap.

His handler seemed to enjoy the Pope’s full confidence and familiarity. In fact, the Pontiff never once left his side and, when instructed, would stoop to either pick the Pope up or allow him to sit upon the handler’s lap. I found it as charming as I found it odd. I don’t recall another pope in recent memory who was so at ease with others as to simply sit on another person’s lap but, Pope Francis’ reign has been full of surprises.

The handler also served as His Holinesses’ interpreter. I speak Italian fluently and had, until that point, presumed Pope Francis did as well. I was informed by the handler that the Pope doesn’t, in fact speak Italian.

Che scandalo!

I simply presumed that every pope spoke Italian. I’m sure it was simply my misreading of history that led me to that incorrect conclusion. I was also surprised to learn the Pope is not as tall in reality as he is in photos. The man who stood before me was a mere one meter tall.

I was also struck by the fact that he the skin of a three-year-old which made me envious. I asked him if he would share the secret to his obviously stringent skin care regimen but he politely and demurely declined.

Pope Francis looked rather different (Picture by Angelo Stagnaro)

It’s probably not anything I could afford anywhere―his skin was immaculate!

The little Pope (Picture by Angelo Stagnaro)

His white ankle-length cassock was a great deal shorter than I had imagined but this is probably due, again, to perspective. I had only otherwise seen him at a great distance. The customary white mozzetta, or short cape was draped over his shoulders. Of course, the entire ensemble would have been incomplete without the matching white sash and white zucchetto perched upon his slight head in a daring, rakish fashion which his handler kept adjusting. Altogether, the pope cut a nice figure for he had girls of all ages fawning over him cooing with delight. Well, after all, no one is ever born a pope.

His handler confided in me and told me the Pope’s aunt had tailored the cassock for him. I thought that odd considering I thought he simply bought his white cassocks off the rack. Perhaps buying them wholesale just to save a few euros. Apparently, I was wrong. It’s sort of like nepotism in reverse.

The Pope whispered something to his handler which I had simply presumed was some theological message of such import that he daren’t let it fall upon mere lay ears. Imagine my surprise when his handler quickly fished around in his carryall and pulled out a tiny box of raisins!

Apparently, it was time for the Pope’s snack.

I admittedly was a little surprised when His Holiness didn’t offer me any as I was led to believe that he was a very generous soul. But, perhaps this was merely celebrity hype. I was greatly relieved, however, when his handler promoted the Pope to share his snack with me.

The Pope nodded and picked out a plump raisin out of the box for me and placed it in my mouth!

Now all is forgiven!

I tried my Latin on Pope Francis but to no avail. I become immediately self-conscious when he smiled at me. I guess my abysmal pronunciation was simply unintelligible to His Holiness. If I only spoke Latin fluently, I would have had a chance to speak to His Holiness. Apparently, that wasn’t in the cards.

Truth be known, I feel the Pope could have handled the situation a bit more diplomatically but, he is the Pope and that’s that. Who am I to judge?

I thanked His Holiness for his time and I shook his diminutive hand. It seemed to get lost in my own by far larger hand but I didn’t hold that against him. I also noted he wasn’t wearing his customary signet ring so I forwent kissing it.

I genuflected before him and took my leave. I had walked away no more than five yards when I turned around to catch another glimpse at the Vicar of Christ and noted he was yawning. His handler scooped him up into his arms and the Littlest Pope rested his weary head upon the man’s shoulder and closed his eyes.

Of all of those stories I’ve read about Pope Francis being a people-person, I have to say, this little scene caught me off guard. He was more than a people-person. Rather, the Pope was simply adorable.

I turned around and continued on my way, content that the future of the Church was upon this man’s tiny shoulders.

I have to say meeting His Holiness was truly an eye-opener. His short stature caught me off guard and his lacuna of what I would call “adult social etiquette” was a bit jarring but sometimes you don’t get to pick your pope―the Holy Spirit gives us the best He can at the time and you have to work with what you were given. Or, to paraphrase The Rolling Stones, you don’t always get the pope that you want but sometimes, if you try real hard, you get the pope that you need.

And either way, he’s simply adorable.