Popes only get our full attention when they're on the way in or on the way out. They're a lot like flashlight batteries -- most people don't notice them until they've expired.
Then we get new batteries, and we don't give the flashlights (or the Popes) much thought until the lights go out again.
And if that sounds like a cynical viewpoint, well, I'm betting you haven't been to Rome.
My family lived in Italy in the early 1960s, during Pope Paul VI's time, and on our first visit to Rome my mother had one passionate wish -- to attend the Pope's weekly Sunday blessing.
She asked the desk clerk at our hotel what time the blessing happened, and he shrugged elaborately, as only a true Italian can shrug -- shoulders up near the earlobes, eyes closed in casual indifference.
The same shrug cops get when they question witnesses to mob hits.
My mother couldn't believe it. This guy was a Roman, certainly a Catholic, working just a few blocks from the Vatican -- and he'd never bothered going to get blessed by the Pope!
Neither did the cop outside the hotel, or the waiter at the cafe where we had breakfast. Romans, one and all, and not one of them knew anything about the weekly blessing.
Why would they? It was like asking a New Yorker how to get to the Statue of Liberty. What true-blue New Yorker has ever been in a rush to see Lady Liberty? It's not as if she's going to walk away.
In the end, we got to the Papal blessing by following the least Italian-looking people we could find -- Swedes in socks and sandals, marching fervently toward St. Peter's.
We stood on the outskirts of a gathering that I can assure you contained very few Italians (unless you count the pickpockets working the crowd.)
The Pope appeared at his open window, a tiny white dot in the distance. We could see that a deep red religious banner was hanging from his window sill.
It hung there the same way Italian maids dangled small rugs out of windows to beat them clean, and my sister Gina, then three years old, asked: "Is that guy going to beat that rug?"
My mother rolled her eyes, my father wondered how a man could offer a blanket blessing to all those people whether they deserved it or not and my sister Mary and I wondered how soon we could get back to the hotel to settle down with our American comic books.
The Pope spoke briefly, gave his blessing and retreated. Big cheers all around, and the crowd dispersed.
My mother was happy -- we'd been blessed by the Pope. I was glad that my mother was happy, though I wondered if the Pope's blessing carried much weight, delivered from so far away.
Well, what the hell. I got blessed by the Pope in 1964. It was an experience, and it must mean something if I remember it after nearly half a century.
Next stop -- the Statue of Liberty. Been meaning to get there for a long time now. Anybody know how to get there?
Charlie Carillo is a producer for the TV show "Inside Edition." His novels "Found Money," "God Plays Favorites," "Shepherd Avenue," "My Ride With Gus," and "The Man Who Killed Santa Claus: A Love Story" are available on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents. His website is www.charliecarillo.com
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