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 CNS Story:

POPE-HUMAN Apr-26-2005 (810 words) xxxi

In Borgo Pio, former neighbors describe pope as humble, 'delightful'

By Benedicta Cipolla
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- When Pope Benedict XVI was elected, Vatican watchers thought they knew the German theologian inside and out.

After all, he brought with him a 24-year-long paper trail as head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, served as one of Pope John Paul II's closest advisers and wrote more than 60 books.

But since his April 19 election, tidbits have begun trickling out from those who came to know Pope Benedict the man, as opposed to the theologian.

"I like him more than Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) -- maybe that's because I knew him," said Carla, who preferred not to give her last name, saying she had been inundated with requests from reporters hungry for details.

As co-owner of a fruit and vegetable shop in Borgo Pio, the tiny Rome neighborhood just east of the Vatican where then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger lived before moving to the Apostolic Palace, Carla saw the future pope pass by nearly every day on his afternoon walk.

"This pope is more intelligent, where the other was more instinctive; he drew forth passion. This one is more rational -- but he is delightful. The fact that he's timid endeared him to all of us," she said as she trimmed endive and served bananas to a customer.

Angelo Mosca runs an electrical supply shop in the "Borgo," the shorthand that longtime residents use to refer to the area, filled with apartment buildings dating back to the 17th century and small, family-run stores, cafes and restaurants.

"Cardinal Ratzinger used to come to buy light bulbs and batteries, or ask for a minor repair, and I went to his house many times to fix something or other," said Mosca. "He is an exceptional person, with an indescribable humility."

About five years ago Mosca, on one of his repair visits to the then-cardinal's fourth-floor apartment, brought along some documentation regarding miracles by a monk who worked with Padre Pio da Pietralcina.

"He listened to me with the greatest kindness. The professor was listening to his student as if the student was the professor," said Mosca.

Walter Colantoni, an optician a block away from Pope Benedict's old apartment, filled then-Cardinal Ratzinger's first eyeglass prescription in 1988.

"He has two pairs, one small and one larger, both for reading," said Colantoni, who greeted the cardinal with a wave every afternoon as he strolled down the street.

"He's a simple, cordial person -- as is being revealed now. Before, people only knew him through his writings and thought he was severe, but he's not. He's humble, without any pretext. We will miss him because he was a constant presence in the neighborhood," he said.

After the election, as people sought to uncover the man behind the doctrine, Pope Benedict's relationship with cats seemed to become as important as his relationship with cardinals.

Story after story recounted his love of felines, some implying he had a veritable menagerie at home.

On Vatican Radio, Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, who worked under Pope Benedict at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, portrayed the new pontiff as something of a Dr. Doolittle.

"I tried to understand the language he used with cats, who were always enchanted when they met him. I thought maybe it was a Bavarian dialect, but I don't know," Cardinal Bertone said.

Ingrid Stampa, the pope's housekeeper for 14 years, finally spoke out to deny that he owned a cat. Instead, Pope Benedict apparently fed strays that lurked around his building, and according to his brother Georg's housekeeper in Germany, the two possess a collection of cat plates there.

Even details about Pope Benedict's daily sustenance have emerged, focusing on his preference for Austrian and German food, like strudel and sausages.

Roberto Proscio, who used to work at a Rome restaurant specializing in Tyrolean cuisine, told the Italian news agency ANSA that the future pope always ordered a Viennese soup and drank orange soda when he came for dinner. When Cardinal Ratzinger visited Proscio in his new restaurant outside the city, he tried pasta and beef Wellington, though the restaurateur sent out a Bavarian cream for dessert in deference to the German prelate's culinary leanings.

The pope is not a sportsman like Pope John Paul, who played soccer, skied and hiked. But he rooted for Bayern-Munich, the hometown soccer team during his 1977-1982 tenure as head of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.

In his Vatican Radio interview, Cardinal Bertone said Pope Benedict later befriended the team's Italian coach and gave him signed copies of some of his books.

For years, Mosca and his staff predicted Cardinal Ratzinger would one day be elected pope.

"I used to joke with him, 'Now I'll give you discounts, and then when you're pope I'll come knock on your door," he said.


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