Edward Pentin reports on a new Vatican documentary which reveals that Benedict XVI enjoys a surprising amount of daily downtime
Vatican television has gained unprecedented access to the papal apartments and recorded a typical day in the life of Pope Benedict XVI. It was filmed last year and has yet to be broadcast. The station, which is run by papal spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, usually sells its programmes to channels around the world and so it's looking' for prospective buyers for the programme.
But in the meantime a select number of journalists have seen an advance viewing of the film. And the general consensus is: the Pope's day is full of tasks but also rich in moments of rest and reflection. In contrast to Pope John Paul II, an average day for the theologian Pope is one of less public activity but more time spent in study and writing.
The day begins early. The exact time varies but usually the Holy Father is up by 5 am or slightly later. Before he was pope Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was always a morning person, determined to use the better part of the day for mediation and prayer. He then concelebrates Mass with his two secretaries, Mgr Georg Ganswein and Mgr Alfred Xuereb. between 7 and 8 pm
in his private chapel (the . programme shows him with Don Mietek, his previous secretary, who was replacedby Mgr Xuereb last year). Bright, modern and austere with plenty of grey marble, the chapel was also used by Paul VI and John Paul II. Four memores domini. consecrated female members of Communion and Liberation who look after the private papal apartments, make up a small congregation. They are also joined by the Holy Father's valet. Paolo Gabriele. It's rare that visitors or friends are present. The Novus Ordo Mass is celebrated in Italian, and the Pope celebrates it with his back to the congregation as that is the way Mass is designed to be celebrated in the chapel. One of the four memores reads the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm. There's no homily but a long pause, especially after each reading and after Holy Communion.
Breakfast is served from 8 to 830, after which the Holy Father adjourns to his study in the papal apartments. On his table in his private study, which is rich in books, are two telephones: one landline, the other a mobile. The Pope uses his mobile phone rarely, when he wants to respond personally and directly to people, and only to those select few who know his number.
One of the first tasks the Pope undertakes in the morning is to sift through
the morning's newspapers. One of his two secretaries bring "an abundant selection" of newspapers and periodicals chosen by an official in the Secretariat of State. He brings them in a bound, green leather case with the words Rassegna Stampa ("press review") on the front. Also brought to him is a selected amount of post for him to read. One of his secretaries then gives him a rundown of the agenda for the day: people to meet and problems warranting his attention.
The Pope remains in his study until II am. He then takes a lift to a lower floor in the Apostolic Palace to attend any public audiences scheduled for that day. These audiences, which are managed by members of the Pontifical Household led by American Archbishop James Harvey, are usually held in the Pope's private library or in a hall nearby. Usually they are with heads of state, entire bishops' conferences, bishops on ad limina visits, or laity involved in the life of the Church.
Wednesdays are an exception, of course, as that's when the Pope holds his weekly General Audience, either in St Peter's Square or in the adjacent Paul VI Audience Hall.
Lunch is served at 1.30 pm, usually by Paolo Gabriele. The Holy Father always dines with his two secretaries and it's rare that he'll have a guest at table. in contrast to his predecessor. Italian Vatican correspondents note that in this way the Pope has reverted to the "reserved nature of Italian popes". He eats and drinks in a sober fashion. The food is Italian, while the drink is almost always freshly squeezed orange juice. Wine will be served on those few occasions when guests dine with him.
After lunch the Pope, accompanied by one or both of his secretaries, will walk for 10 minutes on the terrace of the Apostolic Palace which has a garden, vases of plants and lemon trees. He then returns to his apartments, passing near the Michelangelo cupola of St Peter's, where he'll rest for an hour, or an hour and a half, and perhaps pray in his private chapel. By 3.30 pm the Pope is back at his desk to prepare homilies and attend to documents. At 5 pm one of his secretaries brings post that has arrived during the day, and documents to sign which have already been decided upon in other meetings with his collaborators (heads of dicasteries and other Vatican officials). These are placed in a folder with the words "To be Signed by the Holy Father".
Then from 6 to 6.45 pm the Pope will have routine meetings in his private study. These are usually weekly and monthly engagements. alternating between the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone; the sostituto (responsible for the running of the Roman Curia). Archbishop Fernando Filoni; the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Marnberti; the prefect of Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re; the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Joseph Levada; and other important Vatican heads.
From 6.45 to 7.30 pm in summer, and from 4 to 4.45 pm in winter, the Pope walks in the Vatican gardens accompanied by his two secretaries. The walk passes along small, narrow paths and occasional steps. During his walks the rosary is recited.
Supper takes the same form as lunch, and is served at 7.30 pm. Then, at 8 pm, there's a further chance to unwind. The Holy Father withdraws to a sitting room, furnished with sofas and green armchairs, where he watches TG1, a popular Italian news programme.
Compline follows in his chapel, and soon after 9 pm. he retires to his bedroom, although the Holy Father doesn't go immediately to bed. The lights of the three windows on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace where his apartments are locatedaren't generally switched off until 11 pm. The Holy Father no doubt wishes to squeeze in just a little more time for reading and possibly writing before turning in.