Papal visit: the party’s over


The papal banner was waving everywhere, including the F. Morosini Naval College. Gold and white were the colors of the entire weekend.


The one and a half days that the Pope spent in and around Venice have left a pleasant glow, it appears, in the hearts of virtually everyone, even the gondoliers.  There was a special glow radiating from the Patriarch of Venice, too, which shone, in my opinion, from the eternal flame in his innermost being where his desire to become Pope burns night and day.

But there was no sturm, neither was there any drang.  The four gondoliers who rowed His Holiness across the Grand Canal all said they got really emotional; one even said he had goosebumps when it struck him he was rowing the Pope himself.

My goosebumps were also abundant but they were caused less by emotion (sorry) than by the relentless cold wind which was blowing from the east on Saturday afternoon.

Some unidentified official -- there were so many -- helping to spiff up the rope line.

Lino and I, along with about 50 other people, waited outdoors at the Naval College to greet the Pope as he passed from his helicopter to the motor launch. Wind is fine, but we ended up standing for three solid hours out there, drastically underdressed.  So I win two extra points for having chills even before the Pope appeared.

A few of my other memories are similarly physical. Speaking of standing for three hours (his helicopter landed at the Naval College 45 minutes late) the wind wasn’t the worst part.  It was only the suspense of waiting that smothered the desperate Mayday-Maydays from my feet.

I still love them. I just don't want to wear them. At least not for several whiles.

I can tell you that if the Pope had looked at my feet, he’d have seen two attractive beige pumps with a moderately low heel.  If he’d looked at my face, he would have realized that this footwear had been designed by Torquemada, the “hammer of the heretics.” Lino helped me limp home.

The Pope himself, I can confirm from very close range, is very small, very thin, and very old.  All those vestments and the magical amplifying effects of television obscure these facts.

I was also musing — as I stood there, resisting hypothermia — on how relatively simple it appears to be Pope, in the sense that his every moment is managed by phalanxes of people of every description.  The area was pullulating with important men who couldn’t keep still.  They arrived, they departed, singly or in small groups, while we all tried to interpret what significance these movements might have.  Naval people, from the Commandant down to the sailor with the bosun’s whistle, mixed with lots of men in dark suits and dark glasses who looked like narcs.

The Guardia di Finanza provided one of several extra-large boats. Perhaps they couldn't find a minesweeper in time.

As for maintaining the safety of the area, there were firemen, divers in wetsuits checking the underwater area where his launch was waiting; State Police, Carabinieri, Guardia di Finanza, Civil Protection, Capitanerie di Porto.  Any entity whose agents are entitled to wear a uniform, or a badge, or carry some communication device, had somebody there.

The college chaplain, Father/Brother Manuel Paganuzzi, and the Commandant, Captain Enrico Pacioni, seem to have just remembered they forgot something.

When the Pope arrived, all these armed people were supplemented by priests and deacons and bishops, assigned to carry things.  He doesn’t travel with one large suitcase, he divides his necessities among four or five carry-on bags. And other variously shaped containers.  The Pope himself was almost an afterthought to all this entourage.  (Suddenly I”m wondering whether in the throes of all these aides, assistants, keepers, hewers of wood and drawers of water, whether His Holiness could just walk away.  It might be days before anybody realized he was gone.)

The first wave of bearers and beaters has just arrived; the Pope must be somewhere close by.


Of course all this is necessary.  It was already known that the Secret Service had spent days checking every single palace lining the Grand Canal, ringing the doorbells of everybody who had an apartment with a Canal-facing window and asking for names, dates, and serial numbers (so to speak).

Suddenly, the Pope breaks from cover.

Of course this is normal procedure, it’s just that when you think of having to accomplish that little task here, you suddenly realize how many palaces and windows there are along the wettest main street in the world. But it had to be done. No agent wants to be the one who didn’t manage to speak to little old Mrs. Tagliapietra on the fourth floor and find out too late that she let in somebody Sunday morning who claimed to want to read the gas meter.

Sunday morning was the big mass on the mainland for some 300,000 of the faithful.  Then he got into his launch and headed back to Venice, and finally the big boat procession in the Grand Canal was on.

I know they're all there to help, but any cardinal who suffers from claustrophobia shouldn't even think about becoming Pope.

Captain Pacioni salutes the pontiff as he boards the floating Popemobile. Angelo Cardinal Scola, Patriarch of Venice, awaits his turn. To get on the launch, I mean.

Buttoning up to keep out the cold wind. Wish I'd had a couple of vestments, I could really have used them in that wind.

And off they go. The lagoon waters for miles around were totally calm -- nobody dared to speed with the flotilla of big official boats standing guard.

We were long since at our assigned place.  We tied up the boat at about 11:45. Then we waited.  (“Papal Visit” translates into the Real-Life Dialect as “Bring a book and food and a jacket and make sure they leave the light on for you.”)

Finally, at about 1:30, came the long-awaited moment.  The sun was shining, the breeze had gone down somewhat, and there were more boats than I’ve seen in a corteo in quite some time.  Big, important, glamorous boats.  I would never presume to compare the emotion generated by the Pontifex Maximus to that generated by masses of Venetian boats, but I can tell you one thing:

It’s the only procession I’ve participated in that called to mind the emotions experienced by Venetians in centuries past at similar visitations. Because while the procession for the Festa de la Sensa is nice,  and the procession for the Regata Storica is just one postcard after another, these are merely re-evocations of a remote event.  This was an event in itself; it wasn’t replicating anything. I’m not sure I ever thought this was possible anymore.

My feet have their own thoughts, however, and they are not happy ones. And the shoes have been sent to the corner for a very, very long Time Out.

He looked like he was having fun.

And so were we.






Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Categories : Venetian Events, Water


  1. Andrew says:

    Sounds like a great day despite foot pain. Thanks for giving us a personal view of the proceedings.

    • Erla says:

      I didn’t mention it but I think I may have been in the direct line of one of his blessings. Anyway, my feet don’t hurt anymore.

  2. Yvonne says:

    Blessed are the feet, for, verily, they shall have respite. 🙂
    Yvonne recently posted..This and that

    • Erla says:

      Suffering feet, like the poor, will always be with us. To coin a phrase. Yes, I bought the shoes, it’s true. And no, they never hurt me before. But they clearly weren’t created for the Olympics of footdom.

  3. Hello Erla,

    If you feel too ambigious about that pair of “shoes of the fisherman”, why not surrender them for charity? Maybe there is special indulgence for that on the occasion. Everybody needs mercy (and the shoemakers need jobs).

    > There was a special glow radiating from the Patriarch of Venice, too, which shone, in my opinion, from the eternal flame in his innermost being where his desire to become Pope burns night and day.

    For that situation, there is an ancient saying: “Whoever enters the conclave like a Pope, he will leave as a cardinal.”

    On the other hand several Venice patriarchs did become Pope, but I think the present balance of catholic people all around the world, as well as the “Obama effect” will demand the next Pontiff to be a coloured person (just like St. Linus, the first to follow Saint Peter was).

    > his helicopter landed at the Naval College 45 minutes late

    There was a labour strike among the italian air traffic controllers, which may explain why the pontiff’s jet plane arrived late from Rome. But his schedule was extremely tight to begin with.

    > lots of men in dark suits and dark glasses who looked like narcs

    They are. Three years ago the russian press carried a background story about Vladimir Putin’s bodyguard detail. They are on meth-amphetamines and even designer drugs to keep them highly alert for long periods and have unnaturally quick reaction. After 30 months of service they are discharged because of health and psychological problems associated with prolonged drug use.

    This must be the norm among the secret services around the world, but how to reconcile that with the Vatican’s strict stance against substance abuse?

    Kind regards, Tamas Feher from Hungary.

  4. Randy Bosch says:

    Thank you for sacrificing yourself in order to report this event to the world! Also, I have entered you in the “Best Use of Pullulating and Torquemada in the
    Same Post” competition! The shoes, of course, without question, must be remanded immediately to the Correr for the permanent collection!

    • Erla says:

      Yes, I can see my pumps in the case next to Francesco Morosini’s little prayer book, the one with the cut-out pages to make a secret hiding place to conceal his very small pistol. I suppose I could cut out something else to conceal the shoes, considering that they have now been categorized as dangerous weapons.