At home and abroad, popemobile fills with gifts for pope

A cap is thrown toward Pope Francis as he leaves in a jeep July 8 after visiting San Gerlando Church in Lampedusa, Italy. The pope's personal secretary, Msgr. Alfred Xuereb, left, caught the cap. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Vatican City — When he's riding in the popemobile -- at the Vatican or, for example, in Rio de Janeiro -- Pope Francis uses his hands not just to bless people and hold the babies he's kissing. He uses them to catch things.

Tossing, lobbing and throwing things to the pope or into the popemobile has been a growing phenomenon at the Vatican, but it took on epic portions during World Youth Day in Rio.

"We filled a jeep four times with objects of every kind," said Alberto Gasbarri, the chief organizer of papal trips.

Gasbarri's partial inventory included: "T-shirts, hats, scarves, balls, flowers, bandanas, photographs, letters, drawings, rosaries -- and even a bishop's ring."

"It's true, it was pretty substantial," said Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. It wasn't clear if the ring belonged to a bishop who tossed it or if it was meant as a gift from one of the pilgrims to the pope.

We say: Charlottesville reveals the weeping wound of racism. What do we, the American Catholic faith community, do next? Read the editorial.

The haul was divided between the archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro and the Vatican, Gasbarri told Catholic News Service on Tuesday. Some of the things left behind will be souvenirs of the pope's visit, while much of the clothing will be distributed to the poor.

The ball and soccer jersey Pope Francis left before an icon of Mary July 29 at the Basilica of St. Mary Major -- when he stopped there on the way home from the airport -- came from the Rio collection, Gasbarri said.

The same thing happens at the Vatican with papal gifts. Items handed to the pope or simply tossed into the popemobile are sorted. Some end up catalogued and stored, including in the Vatican Museums, but the clothing and most of the edibles go to the diocesan Caritas, the Vatican shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity or the Vatican's maternal and pediatric clinic, which serves mainly immigrants and is run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

At least once, Pope Francis reached into the bottom of the popemobile and recycled a gift himself. During a weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square in mid-June -- a hot, intensely sunny day -- the pope kissed two little boys and motioned for their parents to put hats on them. A little while later, one of the Vatican security officers held up another hatless boy. The pope kissed the boy, patted him on the cheek then told the officer to wait while he reached down and found a hat. The green baseball cap was a little large, but he put it on the boy's head anyway.

Asked if the gift tosses frighten Vatican security, Lombardi said, "I asked them that, too. They said not really. The pope's not afraid."

Support independent reporting on important issues.

 One family graphic_2016_250x103.jpg

Show comments

NCR Comment code: (Comments can be found below)

Before you can post a comment, you must verify your email address at
Comments from unverified email addresses will be deleted.

  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the original idea will be deleted. NCR reserves the right to close comment threads when discussions are no longer productive.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report abuse" button. Once a comment has been flagged, an NCR staff member will investigate.

For more detailed guidelines, visit our User Guidelines page.

For help on how to post a comment, visit our reference page.

Commenting is available during business hours, Central time, USA. Commenting is not available in the evenings, over weekends and on holidays. More details are available here. Comments are open on NCR's Facebook page.