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Abbot Peter Novokosky

Changing papal habits

Customs are changing aboard papal flights. In my Dec. 2, 2015, editorial, I noted the change in the pope’s style on papal flights, according to John Allen. Jr. Each pope has his own style, and it is different, said the veteran Vatican journalist.

Pope Francis’ most recent flight was to Cuba and then to Mexico for his five-day pastoral visit.

Inés San Martín, one of the Vatican correspondents on board the plane, reported that journalists are also adjusting their interactions with the pope. With Pope Francis it is more informal and friendly. “Even the most seasoned journalists drop their professional cool,” she wrote in her blog on Crux.

“As Francis made his way around the press compartment, even normally cynical journalists seemed to melt,” she wrote. A CNN journalist, for instance, gave the pope a set of letters written by Mexican immigrants from Chicago. The pope welcomed the gift, saying: “I really enjoy reading letters from children!”

An NBC correspondent presented Pope Francis with a basket of homemade cookies. You certainly wouldn’t see that happen from a reporter covering a political campaign. They keep their distance and are often antagonistic toward the politician who is the centre of attention.

A Mexican journalist covering the Vatican gave the pope a Mariachi hat, which had been presented to her during Pope Francis’ trip to Cuba last September. It was made by a Mexican family with a long tradition in the hat industry. When she was unable to present it to the pope then, she obliged them with the favour on this plane trip.

The most unusual incident involved a TV journalist. Noel Diaz, founder of the Catholic network El Sembrador, is covering this trip for his news outlet. Diaz was born in Tijuana, on the U.S. border. At age 17, he moved to Los Angeles, where he became a successful businessman.

“I’m the son of a single mother, and when I took my first communion, we couldn’t afford the clothes,” Diaz told San Martín. “So I started shining shoes in the streets of Tijuana to pay for them.”

When the time came for Diaz to greet Pope Francis, he got down on his knees and shined the pope’s black orthopedic shoes. It wasn’t reported if the shoes were scuffy and needed a new shine. But it didn’t hurt if the pope had good looking shoes for his next appointment.

Pope Francis was on his way to Cuba to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. It was the first time the patriarch has agreed to meet with the pope in centuries. Time will tell if that relationship will have a new shine in the years to come.