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VATICAN-IMPOSTOR Mar-27-1997 (390 words)

Man posing as ambassador sneaks into audience with pope

By Lynne Weil
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A man posing as Mexico's ambassador to the Holy See embarrassed Vatican officials by sneaking into a general audience and personally introducing his family to Pope John Paul II.

Newspapers across Italy carried photographs and accounts of the event when word got out eight days later.

The unidentified Spanish-speaking man, well-groomed and dressed in a somber suit, reportedly showed up at the audience hall door shortly before the March 19 gathering, explaining that he was the newly appointed Mexican ambassador and was soon to present his credentials to the pope, but in the meantime he wanted his wife and two sons to be able to attend the audience.

No arrangements had been made in advance, but evidently the man's word was enough. Security authorities let the four of them sit in the front row, in a section reserved for diplomats.

Had anyone checked with the Mexican Embassy to the Vatican, they would have learned that the visitor was not Ambassador Guillermo Jiminez Morales, credentialed two years before.

After the audience, the impostor and the woman and two boys with him went forward for a brief conversation with the pope, who blessed them and moved on to speak with other visitors.

Vatican authorities later learned of the hoax, and when they checked the hotel where the man told security guards he was staying, they found he had borrowed the name of a guest who claimed no knowledge of the incident or of the perpetrator.

Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that it was an honest mistake: The man was part of a delegation of 40 members of a Mexican association which cares for disabled children, Father Benedettini said, and had therefore been presented as an "ambassador of peace," so he was accidentally placed in the diplomats' section.

The spokesman added that Vatican authorities later identified the man and learned that he has a disabled son. "So in the end," La Repubblica's report said, "the (papal) benediction fell on the right head."

The Rome-based newspaper Il Messaggero closed its account of the event by complimenting "Mister Nobody" for getting away with his scam. "Thank goodness he was not a dangerous type," the paper said. "These days there are many of those around."

END


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