His books lie on my desk, a tangible reminder of the astounding news this week.
Pope Benedict XVI will resign from papal office on Feb. 28, breaking a 600-year-old tradition.
As a religion writer, I have read every Vatican story that crossed my desk in the city Newsroom during the past eight years, trying to get to know Joseph Ratzinger, the man who became pope.
But it was my freelance work for the Tiverton-Little Compton Patch that gave me a window into the world of the Vatican.
In October 2011, I drove to The Commons Lunch in Little Compton for an interview with Dr. Joseph “Joe” H. Hagan, a local who visited the restaurant every morning after daily Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Parish.
While serving as president of Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., Hagan became a trustee of John Cabot University in Rome and was appointed as a Gentleman-in-Waiting at the Vatican, a position he has held for the past 22 years.
It is the duty of a Gentleman-in-Waiting to escort dignitaries and heads of state to an audience with the pope.
Consequently, Hagan served Pope John Paul II, now Blessed John Paul II, from his appointment in 1991 until the pontiff’s death in 2005; and Pope Benedict XVI from the time of his election that same year to the present.
Hagan described Pope Benedict as very traditional, warm and sweet.
“He has a beautiful personality,” Hagan said. “You can see it in his face.”
Today, I received an email from Father Giorgio Rizzieri, the Catholic chaplain of Rome Fiumicino International Airport in Italy.
A few years ago, he commented on one of my stories, and since then we have been correspondents.
When I heard the news of Pope Benedict’s resignation, I emailed Father Giorgio to hear his reaction.
“I have touching memories of my encounters with him each time he had to board a flight for an apostolic journey,” Father Giorgio said.
He added that he will always remember the pope’s calm demeanor, gentle smile and fatherly concern, especially his words of thanks and encouragement for his ministry.
“I will bring this with me for the rest of my life,” he said.
Father Giorgio wrote that the pope’s legacy will be the genuine experience of faith focused on reason.
“Every Wednesday I looked forward to listening to his catechesis at the General Audience – true delicious nourishings of mind and spirit,” he said. “He taught all Catholics to be strictly united in the Church and to be bold enough to swim against the tide of the politically correct. His ultimate effort for this target was his recent proclamation of a hopefully fruitful Year of Faith.”