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How to Greet the Pope

Pope FrancisIt’s not that I expect to be plucked from some Google search for an audience with Pope Francis this week. I just found myself wondering, “How do you behave when meeting a pontiff?”  Below are the results of my research:

  • What to wear. The guidelines are consistent with the Victorian edict to dress in consideration of the company you will be keeping (as opposed to whatever is clean, quick and comfortable). As such, for a papal visit, attire should be conservative. This means a jacket and tie for men and  (knee-length or lower) suit, dress or skirt for women. That said, if you are one of the cast-of-thousands hoping to snatch glimpse of Pope Francis, feel free to wear whatever is comfortable.
  • Strand and wait. When the Pope enters the room, stand and wait to be introduced. (You will be introduced to him; the Pope will not be introduced to you).
  • Hold your tongue! Do not speak until the Pope addresses you. Call him “Your Holiness”.
  • What to say? Use the Pope’s questions and comments as a launch pad for your input. If you wish to  introduce a new topic and have done your homework you will know that Pope Francis cooks his own meals, relishes an occasional slice of pizza, is a soccer fan and was a professor of literature, If you don’t find fertile ground in any of these topics, you might bring up a noncontroversial news story or relevant tid-bit of American history. If the silence becomes awkward, you can always resort to the weather. In any case, keep the topics impersonal. Do not talk about yourself unless questioned.
  • No touching! Do not touch the Pope, unless he extends an invitation. As such, if the Pope extends his hand and you are Catholic, you may either kiss his ring or shake his hand. (Note that according to an NPR article, this everyman’s pope wears a recycled gold-plated silver ring instead of the 35-gram pure gold ring worn by his predecessor.) Non-Catholics would shake his hand.

Do your best. Don’t let the worry of a breach of etiqyette taint the pleasure of this experience.  After all, this pope routinely steps put of his car to weave through a crowd and co-wrote a song titled, So We can All be One (translated from Spanish)  It is unlikely he will single out an innocent misstep. Indeed, Pope Francis would probably chock it up to you being, like everyone, including himself, “perfectly imperfect”!

(Printed in the MetroWest Daily News. September 24, 2015)