Tag Archives: Europe

2221. I Spied: John Paul II

(Stories posted on Mondays on this blog – at least for a while – will present famous people I once spotted, albeit from a distance.)

Don’t get me wrong; I quite liked the man. But I was not overly impressed by what I am about to tell…

I had been travelling Europe on a train pass for seven weeks. One does that when trying to find a way home from America to New Zealand. Distance precludes repeated returns. One must cram everything – tourist-wise – into an opportunity that may come but once in a life time.

Incidentally a train pass (which must be purchased outside of Europe) enables one to travel on any train all over Europe. And trains are everywhere all over the place. I was young enough to get in a train and sleep until midnight, swap trains and sleep until morning, alighting in the same city I started from the night before.

It was the beginning of 1987. I had “done” England, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France. Finally, it was Italy’s turn. I was to end my trip in Rome flying from there to a change of plane in Melbourne, Australia. Rome was last on the list because I knew people living there and I had somewhere to stay. I visited half a thousand churches, and half a million ancient ruins. I covered half a trillion corridors in the Vatican dripping with famous works of art. Every corner turned revealed a new masterpiece – “Oh yes! I’ve seen that in a book”.

My Roman hosts asked me if I would like to attend a papal audience, and of course though travel-weary, I said yes. I was given a ticket and excitedly turned up to the huge hall where such an event was held. I was handed a sheet of paper with a list, not of the Ten Commandments, but a list of don’ts to be obeyed during the papal audience. The one I remember is “Thou shalt not rip the buttons off the pope’s cassock.”

I sat down in a row next to the aisle about halfway down the hall. Next to me were 20 or 30 nuns from Argentina. Music was piped over loud speakers. The music changed key. A cardinal entered the stage and sat in a chair. Excitement grew in the audience. Again the key of the music changed. Tension grew. A bishop entered. The music grew louder and the key changed again. Several bishops entered. I thought, “This is getting to be like a Nuremberg rally”. Everyone was excited. I thought the Argentinian nuns were about to pass out. The Wagnerian music changed key again – higher and more tension ridden. Swiss Guards in their medieval costumes designed by Michelangelo stood at attention.

And then…

In an orgasmic volume of key changing and loudness came the climax and…

There stood the pope. People screamed. It was staged. It was manipulative. Quite frankly, I was disgusted.

The rest was quite boring. A long speech was given in Italian, during which people clapped and cheered. At the end, the pope walked the aisle touching hands with whoever could reach out the furtherest. Being on the aisle I could have reached out, but I was too busy holding back 30 screaming orgasmic Argentinian nuns who were trying to scrum their way past me to the aisle.

All said and done, the pope seemed like a nice person; ordinary and agreeable enough. But being a little travel-weary it was the event itself that rattled my hackles. And that is how I spied…

Pope John Paul II