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Pope John XXIII's unofficial days out from the Vatican

Former assistant tells humorous tales of secret excursions in his car

Pope John XXIII's unofficial days out from the Vatican
Iacopo Scaramuzzi for Vatican Insider/La Stampa
Vatican City

April 2, 2014

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A couple of rides around Rome and a number of trips to the Alban Hills. Pope John XXIII, soon to be saint, used to “escape” the Vatican and the Apostolic Palace and take off in his Chrysler Cadillac or an ivory-blue Opel Record, leaving the Vatican police in a bit of a tizz trying to search for him.

The Dean of the Hall of the Papal Antechamber under John XXIII (and owner of the two-coloured Opel) Guido Gusso, recounted this little tale and various others at today’s presentation of “The Voice of the Popes,” a digital archive containing over 8000 audio recordings featuring the voice of all Popes from Pius XI to Francis. The presentation took place at the Vatican Radio offices.

“After we had been strolling through the Vatican gardens for eight days he said: ‘But we always see the same places! Take me to the big fountain on the Janicular Hill, to the Villa Borghese gardens!’ Pope John’s “valet” said. "To which I responded, ‘But Your Holiness, we can’t’ and he replied: ‘What do you mean? Get the car and let’s go.’ The Vatican Gendarmerie went crazy because they had no idea where the Pope had disappeared to."

The Pope’s disappearing acts continued even during his stays at Castel Gandolfo. “Once, I told him I had been to the Pratoni del Vivaro meadows which are close by and resemble Sappada. He was curious to see them so he said: ‘Let’s do this, there’s a gate [at the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo] near Alban cemetery. Get them to give you the keys. Open it and leave it open for ten days or so no one will know what’s going on.’ 

"When we got to the gardens, he said to me: ‘Let’s take the car, do a couple more rounds so we get the Gendarmerie dizzy, then you open the gate and we go.’ We went to Vivaro. People recognised him because we were driving at snail pace. When we got to the junction between Artena and Frascati I asked him where he wanted to go and he said: ‘Let’s go home or Capovilla.’

"When we went through Marino, the road was narrow and full of people; it was afternoon, the crowd recognised him and started to shout ‘Long live the Pope!’, ‘Hail our John!’ We couldn’t get past … we finally got to the Apostolic Palace, but via the main entrance at the end of the Castel Gandolfo road and the gendarmerie and the Italian police were in complete turmoil. You should have seen the look on the Swiss Guard’s face…”

A day or so later a letter arrived from the Italian police. “ 'The Italian police is suing me.' The Pope called me to read the letter to me. He started laughing; he was glad because we ‘d managed to get out.” 

Full Story: John XXIII’s secret “escapes” from the Vatican 

Source: Vatican Insider/La Stampa

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