Wednesday, April 27, 2011

At Home with the Pope: Inside Benedict XVI's Daily Life (and Menu)

Pope Benedict XVI isn't alone in his apartment at the Vatican.

Four "guardian angels" help him, and recently there has been an addition to the personnel at his service.

For the past six years, the Pontiff's Vatican apartment has been run by members of the Memores Domini, a lay association whose members practice obedience, poverty and chastity, and who live in a climate of silence and common prayer. 

Loredana is the queen of the kitchen, which was renovated in 2005 with onyx countertops and gray shelves. 

She prepares meals on a big marble table for Benedict, who turned 84 on Saturday, and any invited guests. Pasta dishes are her specialty, including pasta with salmon and zucchini, or rigatoni with prosciutto. 

She keeps in touch with the Vatican supermarket and chooses which vegetables to get from the garden of Castel Gandolfo, a papal retreat in the hills south of Rome. 

Carmela helps in the kitchen, where she specializes in cakes the Pope has appreciated since his days as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. His favorites are strudel, tiramisu and tarts. Carmela also tidies the Pope's bedroom and looks after his wardrobe. 

Cristina handles the apartment's chapel, where the Pope celebrates Mass every morning, and pitches in with some secretarial work. 

Finally, Rossella, the latest addition, handles the Pope's archives and the rooms of Benedict's two secretaries, Georg Gänswein and Alfred Xuereb.

A social worker in a small community in northern Italy, Rossella was transferred to the Vatican to replace a woman who died in November after being run over by a car in Rome. 

A former colleague in her community, Ornella Galvani, describes Rossella as "gentle and always ready to help people."

Until 2005, under John Paul II, the papal apartment was run by Polish nuns. The memores aren't nuns, do not wear religious garments, are laypeople and live in the world.

But this isn't the first time that lay housekeepers are allowed inside the papal apartment.

In 1922, upon his election, Pope Pius XI demanded that his housekeeper follow him inside the Vatican. 

When he was told this might seem inappropriate and had no precedent, Pius cut it short: "I'll be the first one then," he was said to have responded.

Also part of Benedict's pontifical family is his aide Paolo Gabriele, who waits at the table and helps the Pope during trips and public events.

A typical "Benedictine" day: 

The Pope's day begins at 7 a.m. with Mass; one hour later breakfast is served. 

At 9 a.m. the Pope goes into his private study, the one where he recites the Angelus prayer every Sunday, speaking from the window overlooking St. Peter's Square. 

He does his work in the study, where another consecrated laywoman, Birgit, helps him in her role as secretary and typist — she can read Benedict's tiny handwriting better than anyone else.

Following Birgit in the study is Gänswein, the Pope's secretary, to discuss the day's agenda. 

Typically, the Pontiff works until 11 a.m., when audiences, or meetings, begin. 

At 1:15 p.m. lunch is served, with the secretaries and the memores sitting at the table with Benedict.

After a brief stroll in the roof garden, the Pope rests, to return to his private study at 4 p.m. 

He says the rosary and then resumes his work. 

After a prayer, dinner is served at 7:30 p.m., in time to watch the 8 p.m. newscast on RAI, the Italian state broadcaster. 

An hour later, the Pope says good night and retires, though he works some more before going to sleep.

The people surrounding him are in effect a real family for the Pope. 

In his recent book, Light of the World, Benedict said he hardly ever watches TV, though he made an exception when he watched with his "family" old black-and-white movies of Don Camillo and Peppone, Italian comedies portraying the playful clashes between the communist mayor of a small town and the local priest in postwar Italy.