We’re standing in line to get into St. Peter’s basilica. It’s our first day in Rome and it’s mid-afternoon. Sadly, the day is grey and overcast. I take the camera and snap a few shots of the square and the front of the basilica. I get a nice one of the rows of empty chairs in front of the steps which I find symbolic.
When I get back into line Ann is talking with this guy behind her. She tells me, “He lived in Belgium!” Somehow I’m not surprised. After Ann found what was probably the only other Belgian in Cabo San Lucas on our vacation a few years ago I’m no longer surprised at her magnetic ability to attract other Belgians.
So we’re talking to this guy, who identifies himself as French, and within two minutes of talking to him he makes a comment about English taking over everywhere in Europe as the common language. The first thing I think is, “typically French,” followed closely by a smug, “booya buddy.”
I ask him if he’s aware of the pet project of Chirac to make a digital library of Europe’s books to compete with the Google Books project to digitize books in American universities. He doesn’t know it. For such a Francophile I’d have thought he would have already donated. Then I remember, he HAS already donated… with his 45% in taxes he pays.
Once again, I was reassured to be an American.
So I’m practicing my very rusty French with this guy, and we’re talking about this and that, and I remark on how grand St. Peter’s is. He says, “Oh yes, in the past seven days I’ve been here four times.”
Okay. So obviously this guy is pretty religious.
“So are you here for business or vacation?” I ask.
“I’m on a pilgrimage of sorts,” he answers. “Today I’m going to pray at the tomb of John Paul.”
Now, I am not usually confronted with religious extremists in my daily life, and, not wishing to go any further down this path of discussion, and not wishing to offend this guy with my atheism and general disdain for zealots, I just say nothing.
We get to the metal detectors and after we pass through the guy says, “Well, I will go this way, it was a pleasure meeting you, que dieux vous gardez.” Which translates to : “God keep you.”
It’s then that I take a good full look at the guy and notice that he’s wearing a priest’s collar.