Reviews & Profiles
Our memorable encounter with Pope Benedict
Posted Friday, March 1 2013 at 00:00
Yesterday, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI resigned the Papacy. There have been mixed emotions about his resignation. One man who along with his wife met and chatted with the Pope, tells of this inspiring encounter.
So the Pope has given up his post. I am not a Catholic but, I had the honour of coming face-to-face with Pope Benedict XVI, chatted with him and shook his hand. On January 6, 2012, my wife Ruth, and I attended the Epiphany Mass in the Vatican, presided over by the Pope. We were on holiday in Rome and my wife knew a Ugandan priest who is one of the officials working in the Vatican, Msgr Charles Namugera.
Somehow, my wife who is a good Catholic, made arrangements with Msgr Namugera and he must have “pulled some strings” because we were selected to take the offertory in that Mass. On the eve of the ceremony, we were asked to attend St. Peter’s Basillica for rehearsals. There were a few other lucky people who were selected to perform other roles, like taking the first and second readings and holding the Bible for the Pope as he read from various scriptures.
An army of Vatican priests led us through the rehearsals and drummed into us the importance of getting every move right.
Then on the day of the mass, all roads led to the Vatican. A Papal Mass is big news in Rome and attracts hundreds of thousands of people.
We were seated in a special enclosed-off area within the church on reserved seats. Suddenly I started feeling like a VIP. The rest of the congregation had to stand round the enclosed-off area and, the colourful papal Swiss guards were on hand to ensure that no one breached this cordoned off area.
Soon the mass began. It was in Italian, but we had a copy of the Order of Mass which had English translations, so we were following what was going on.
Soon it was time for us and another couple from Brazil to take the offertory. We walked down the aisle with the entire congregation seated down and everyone gazing at us, the nuns, bishops, cardinals and all other VIPS.
I would like to say that I was feeling great and walking on air but, the truth is that inside, I was a trembling wreck despite the hours we put in rehearsing our moves the day before. My wife was wearing a gomesi and this made her a star attraction. People in the congregation were truly amazed by it and were taking her pictures at every opportunity. It felt like I was invisible because no one paid much attention to me next to a gomesi. This is when I really appreciated the uniqueness and beauty of this outfit. What attire!
So we walked down the aisle with me holding the wine and my wife the host. It was the same with the Brazilian couple. With the Vatican TV cameras and everyone else focused on us, we were like gold fish in a bowl. The walk down the aisle felt so long and lonely, with the piercing eyes of the Bishops and Cardinals gazing at us. We eventually made it to the altar where the Pope was sitting, and knelt before him. This altar is placed right on top of the grave of St Peter, the rock on which Jesus stated he will build his church.
Gomesi captivates the Pope
We were under strict orders from the master of ceremony not to stay there for more than a minute. However, the Pope was also captivated by the gomesi and gazed at my wife for a moment. He then asked her, “Where do you come from?” That’s when we started chatting to him and stayed a bit longer than one minute. We told him we come from Uganda and he seemed a bit unsure about the country. So we mentioned the Uganda Martyrs and his expression lit up with recognition. He blessed us and we shook his hands. He had frail but surprisingly very warm hands. The master of ceremony beckoned us to move on and we did so. I returned to my seat still trembling, the man had that effect on me.
When it came to the part of shaking hands with other people in the congregation as a sign of peace, everyone near us and those standing on the outside of the cordon wanted to shake our hands because we had shaken the Pope’s hands. I have never had to shake so many hands. I felt like I was dispensing blessings myself so I freely obliged.
Soon, the mass ended and we were besieged by people asking us how we managed to be granted that honour of going up to the Pope.
Others were taking more pictures of the gomesi paparazzi style. The memory of it will stay with me forever. You do not appreciate the majesty of the Pope until you come face-to-face with one.