Papal Gardens, Castel Gandolfo, and Pope Benedict XVI
One of the very special opportunities we had during our orientation was being able to visit the pope at his summer residence outside of Rome. Summers in Rome, as I discovered when I first arrived here, are especially known for being.. unreasonably warm. So every year the pope takes a jog about 15 miles southeast of the city up where it's cooler in the mountains to stay at Castel Gandolfo. This small town is located on the edge of a big mountain lake called Lake Albano, and it has been around since Roman times. The site of the pope's residence was at first the site of the Roman Emperor's summer villa, I believe as early as Domitian in the first century AD. Neat!
We arrived at Castel Gandolfo early to receive a private tour of the papal gardens from the Prefect of the papal household, Archbishop James Harvey. Archbishop Harvey is originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin (USA! USA!) and he was a very generous host. The gardens are quite large, about 75 acres or so, take a look at some of the pics:
|Lots of men in black. Where's Agent J?|
|Arriving at the gardens|
|Photo op of the Lansing men!|
At the end, we thanked Bishop Harvey and got back on the bus to take the short trip over to the pope's house where he was to give the Sunday Angelus at noon. We were able to walk in the back way and get spots right up front as close to the Holy Father as possible. This is a special grace and gift given to the new man class each year at the NAC. It was the first time I've ever seen the pope in person, and I was about 30 yards away! Take a look:
|The secret backdoor staircase|
|At this moment we're walking through several doorways into an inner courtyard to the pope's balcony.|
|Lots of people from around the world love the pope.|
|We waited about 20 minutes or so before he came out.|
|Ecco il papa!|
Praying the Angelus so close to Pope Benedict was one of the coolest things I've probably ever done. He gave a short homily on the Sunday's readings, then we prayed the Angelus, and then he welcomed all the pilgrims who came. To give you an idea of just how smart this man is, in the course of about ten minutes he spoke Latin, Italian, German, English, French, Spanish, and Polish. Nothin' like having a genius as the shepherd of the universal Church.
I actually managed to get most of it on video. Below you can check out two short clips, the pope's blessing and his shout out to the new seminarians of the North American College. Woohoo! You'll notice that I recorded nearly whole thing 90 degrees sideways. That's because I'm an idiot. So anyway, in lieu of making you turn your heads as if you were looking at art, I switched the settings so it could be viewed upright. Thumbs up for technology!
Yes, yes we did sing for the pope, but I decided to spare you the bulk of it. Undoubtedly it would have sounded so beautiful to your ears that you might have died of joy. And I'd like to see you all again when I get home, so.. no dying today.
After being blessed by the pope and listening to his exhortation, we finished the trip by eating pranzo at a nearby restaurant with a spectacular view of Lake Albano; we sat on the lower level terrace which had an unobstructed vista. The food was delicious, and wow was there certainly much to be grateful for as we shared a meal together. It was quite cloudy out and there was a chance of afternoon rain, but thanks be to God for His wonderful gifts, we only got a few minutes' worth while we ate, so we were spared even though we ate outdoors!
All in all, this was definitely one of my favorite days of orientation. There was something about being with the pope that just makes you love him. You can see and appreciate more deeply how effectively he can tangibly bring about unity in the body of Christ like no one else can. A thousand perfect strangers became a community in those moments simply because they wanted to see him and Christ through him. And this makes the pope especially attractive as a spiritual father. Why? Because he engenders unity, and unity attracts. Even among two or three, unity begins to fulfill Jesus' prayer at the Last Supper, that we would all be one with each other as He is one with the Father. So we should always pray for the pope, because in doing so we ultimately pray for the fulfillment of Jesus' desire, our unity with each other and with Him.