Here Comes the Pope (again..)
In 2002, I wrote about the Pope John Paul II’s sixth visit to Assisi – and my memory of a personal encounter (so-to-speak) during his 1976 visit. That note follows below.
On October 27th, Pope Benedict XVI made his first visit to Asisisi, called “citta’ della pace” ever since the encounter of all the world’s religious leaders here at invitation of John Paul II in 1986. This recent Papal visit commemorated the 25th anniversary of that most significant inter-faith meeting.
This will be the Pope’s 6th visit to Assisi. Other Papal visits took place in 1978, 1982, 1986, 1993, and 1998.
I remember distinctly the ’78 visit. It was November 5th and my husband Pino was out chopping firewood for our woodstove that day (winter around the corner) and was not interested in going into Assisi to see the Pope. So I bundled up, got on my motorbike (no car then!) and rode into Assisi on my own.
An animated, entusiastic crowd already packed the Piazza Inferiore right below the Basilica di San Francesco, as well as the area in front of the church. The lawn in front of the Upper Basilica di San Francesco was trimmed to read “PAX” and here, the Papal helicopter was to land.
I knew that I’d have very little chance to see anything. Hoping to get a good view of his arrival, I went up to the little church of Santa Margherita which overlooks the Upper Basilica and the great lawn in front of it. A determined little Franciscan friar had had the same idea. He had actually climbed up on the roof of the little church reached down a hand to pull me up.
When the helicopter was sighted, the crowds below started to yell in exultation, “viva il Papa!” … as did the friar, who was jumping up and down in excitement. I had had no particular emotion of excitment up til then… but soon found myself shouting “Viva il Papa!” with the little friar… and we both frantically waved to the Pope.
As the helicopter flew into land right in front of us, the Pope beamed and waved back at us from the window! The helicopter landed and the Pope got out , then walked across the lawn and spread his arms wide to greet the crowds in the Piazza Inferiore below. His opening words: “Buon giorno a tutti… and I want all of you up there on the roofs to be very careful…. I wouldn’t want anyone falling”…! The friar and I whooped in glee and laughed as we hugged each other….
(*April 5, 2005 – I imagine that today, the little friar -. wherever he is – is remembering that moment. I am.)
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