Edward Pentin’s Vatican Notebook
Pope Benedict XVI made an unannounced day trip to the mountains of Abruzzo in central Italy last Friday to pray on the Feast of the Transfiguration.
The Holy Father, who is currently staying at Castel Gandolfo for the summer, also visited a number of nearby towns and dropped in on some old friends. So secret was his excursion that, according to reports, not even the local police knew he was coming.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio that Benedict XVI left his summer residence on the morning of August 6 to visit the shrine of Our Lady of the Needy (also called the Madonna of the Mountains). According to tradition the 3,000fthigh chapel was built by the inhabitants of two villages in 608 AD to house an image of the Madonna.
The visit was tied closely with the Transfiguration which is said to form an important part of the Pope’s third volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth. Benedict has been writing the volume while on holiday at Castel Gandolfo.
The Holy Father then travelled to a religious community in the nearby town of Carsoli where he had lunch with the community’s Sisters. The religious had given refuge to the archbishop of L’Aquila during last year’s earthquake that devastated parts of the region, and are also known to be “exceptional cooks”. The Holy Father was joined at the convent by the president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, who celebrated his 94th birthday on August 1.
In the afternoon, together with Mgr Georg Gänswein, his personal secretary, the Pope travelled to the city of Rocca di Mezzo where he met the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who has a holiday home there. Benedict XVI also called in on St Leucio’s parish where he prayed for those affected by last year’s earthquake.
The Pope met Rocca di Mezzo’s civic authorities including the mayor who said he was “deeply grateful” for the Pope’s visit. Benedict XVI then returned to Castel Gandolfo, rounding off what Fr Lombardi called a “private and prayerful” trip.
This was the Holy Father’s third visit to Abruzzo in just over a year. During his pontificate he has also made at least one clandestine trip outside the Vatican and, according to some reports, he recently sneaked out of the Apostolic Palace in Rome to dine at Al Passetto di Borgo, one of his favourite restaurants near the Vatican. The Vatican denied the reports, although it is well known the Holy Father likes to occasionally dine with a few friends at the home of his former secretary, Bishop Josef Clemens.
Spontaneous undercover trips were a favourite of John Paul II, whose love of nature regularly led him to “escape” the bustle of Rome. He would occasionally take walks in the countryside around the Eternal City or even go skiing in disguise.
Benedict XVI’s similar love of nature and his dislike of being confined to Rome are reasons why he so enjoys his long summer stays at Castel Gandolfo which have tended to last until October.