Pope Benedict XVI’s summer vacation began last Thursday, with the removal of his household to the Papal summer palace in Castel Gandolfo. The tiny hill top village that overlooks lake Albano, just 15 km south east of Rome, has welcomed Pope’s since the 15th century and it is there that Pope Benedict XVI will spend his summer doing what he loves most; reading, writing and praying.In an interview with Vatican Radio, Holy See Press Office Director, Fr Federico Lombardi S.J., reveals that “the best way for the Pope to rest is for him to study and write about theology, Sacred Scripture, because they are topics that fascinate him”. He also says that to guarantee the Pope and his staff the rest they need, there is no better place than the familiar surroundings of the renaissance palace and its majestic gardens.Q. – Father Lombardi, the Pope will spend his summer vacation at Castel Gandolfo fort he second consecutive…R. – Yes, certainly. Let’s say that Castel Gandolfo has been the summer residence of Popes for a long time, in a way the exception was introduced by Pope John Paul II who included periods of rest in the mountains. Now, as we know, Benedict XVI gladly accepted invitations to vacation in the mountains on a few occasions, but we also know that he enjoys his stay at Castel Gandolfo very much and perhaps has a greater guarantee of the rest which he needs and desires by going directly to Castel Gandolfo, rather than travelling to an unfamiliar place for a short period, which means a change in habits from the point of view of his surroundings as well as his daily routine. So, Castel Gandolfo certainly has the advantage of being a familiar location, prepared and equipped for the presence of the Holy Father, a quiet place, where even the altitude is suitable – cooler than Rome, but not particularly high – it has gardens to walk in, and environments conducive to the Pope’s intellectual and cultural work as well as for time spent in prayer, both particularly dear to him. In fact, we know that the Pope is by no means a person who wastes time; he is a person who makes an intense use of his time – even when resting – doing things that are familiar and to his taste: reading, studying and writing. I was also struck in the past, talking to the Pope’s personal secretary, who said to me very naturally: “The best way for the Pope to rest is for him to study and write about theology, Sacred Scripture, because they are topics that fascinate him” . This is true for all of us, when we do the things we love most, we rest. Another small point I would make is that if staying in Castel Gandolfo gives the Pope a sense of normalcy, of ordinariness compared to a journey that would take him to a different environment, I believe that the Pope is also attentive to the fact that from the organizational, logistical, security point of view, his going to Castel Gandolfo is the easiest solution for many other people. In fact, arranging the security and proper functioning of a period of rest for the Pope outside Castel Gandolfo is quite challenging. It was always very willingly undertaken, when really desired by the Holy Father, but it meant mobilizing many people and had many organizational aspects. I believe that the Pope, in his discretion and kindness, also takes into account that going to Castel Gandolfo makes things easier for many people.
Pope Benedict waves to the faithful on his arrival at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Q. – So, a period of rest but also of preparation for some important events …
R. – Certainly. The Pope has the trip to Spain for the World Youth Day ahead of him, and this interrupts his normal stay in Castel Gandolfo: therefore, a good reason to go to Castel Gandolfo now, since he will be travelling in the month of August. Then, of course the Pope is already thinking of his trip to Germany, which is an important, challenging trip, highly anticipated in his homeland and this will be one of the topics on which to reflect. We can also say that the Pope has a project in the pipeline that we all know about: the completion of his great work on Jesus of Nazareth. He told us he wanted to complete it with a third volume, though smaller, perhaps a bit different in nature and approach, which is about His childhood, about the infancy Gospels. He has already started working on it in his free periods of the past months, but probably this is the right time to bring the work to a conclusion or at least to forge ahead on it.
Q. – What are the remaining events?
R. – The important remaining appointments, even more so than the Holy Father’s rest, are the Sunday Angelus: these always remain. They will take place at Castel Gandolfo, in that familiar, beautiful Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, a different picture from that of the large square, a more intimate context in which people feel closer to the Holy Father, who is only a few meters away. Even the sound of the courtyard, is very lively, with the shouts and different expressions of the people … So, the Angelus at the Castle has a very unique, nice and friendly feeling. Then, in the normal appointments are suppressed in July, including the general audience, they will resume with the month of August and usually – depending on the number of people present – these take place at Castel Gandolfo… With the month of September, however, the activities of the Pope resume. In the month of September there are also the scheduled trip to Ancona, for the conclusion of the Italian National Eucharistic Congress, then towards the end of the month, the all-important trip to Germany. Moreover important visitors and audiences resume in September with greater intensity. So even if the Pope remains at Castel Gandolfo for the month of September, it is a month of almost „normal“ activities.
Q. – When is the Pope due to return to the Vatican?
R. – The return to the Vatican is normally at the end of September: this is the pattern. The Pope usually remains at Castel Gandolfo fort he months of July, August and September.
God bless Benedict! May he enjoy his shortened period of rest + study, prayer, writing — at Castel Gondolfo. He works so very hard on behalf of us all.
And Spain in August!, such a hot month. His tireless efforts never cease to amaze, and humble, me and a I sure many of the others who read this blog. Ad multos annos!