View From Rome
04 May 2017
View from Rome
As the plane taxied down the runway preparing for take off, I looked towards the front of the plane from my seat at the back. In the distance, I spotted a fleck of white peeking out into the aisle. Pope Francis was sitting in seat 1C of the Alitalia Airbus A321, and hanging in front of him was an icon of the Virgin Mary and child Jesus on a gold background.
As we reached cruising height the curtains separating the sections of the plane were closed. Then, a few moments later, there was a flurry of activity: a Vatican security officer with an earpiece walked to the back of the plane while various officials, including Holy See spokesman, Greg Burke, stood at the entrance to economy. Suddenly the curtain was pulled back and the Pope appeared. He was about to begin his custom of saying “hello” to every single reporter, cameraman and producer – there were 70 of us in total – travelling with him, and to thank us for our work.
Getting this brief one-on-one with the Pope is one of the major perks of travelling on “Shepherd One”, as the flight is nicknamed. And having these encounters sometimes enables reporters to secure interviews with him later. I had positioned myself in an aisle seat, knowing this would make it easier to talk to the Pope, rather than having to reach over to shake his hand from a window seat. I wanted to present him with the latest edition of The Tablet and, knowing he had a sense of humour, I thought I would crack a joke.
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