Rarely has the Vatican been so much in the spotlight as over the last week or two. While most media focused relentlessly on Benedict XVI’s last days leading the Petrine Ministry, we were rather taken by lesser issues. That’s the spirit of hidden europe — to buck the trend and dig out the more obscure details about communities across Europe.
The dog days of a papacy have never in recent times been quite so clearly defined as they were in February 2013. Benedict’s announcement on 12 February ushered in 16 days of preparations for that moment last Thursday evening when the Pope stepped back from office. Important ecclesiastic business was immediately shelved.
We find it interesting what business was still transacted in the second half of February. The Holy See and the Republic of South Sudan struck up diplomatic relations. That was on 22 February. But for us the real highlight was an announcement on 15 February that one of Europe’s most historic international footpaths is, for the first time, to be opened to the public. We tell the story of the Passetto di Borgo, which links Vatican and Italian territory, in hidden europe 39 — which is published on 15 March.
A pope is of course not merely head of a Church but also head of state. On his penultimate day in office, Pope Benedict XVI had his last formal meetings in his capacity as head of the smallest sovereign state in the world. The roll call of those who on that day met the Pope in the Clementine Hall makes wonderful reading. Benedict XVI’s final audience was not with the big hitters in the world of power and diplomacy. It was reserved for smaller nations.
The Pope met first with Ivan Gasparovic, President of Slovakia. Next in line were the representatives from a tiny republic that always has two heads of state rather than one. So the Pope greeted Teodoro Lonfernini and Denise Bronzetti, Captains Regent of the Republic of San Marino, with their spouses.
The only other European country with two heads of state is Andorra and on 27 February, Pope Benedict XVI also met with Archbishop Joan Enric Vives i Sicília of Urgell, not in the latter’s role as a bishop but as co-prince of Andorra. At the same audience the Pope also received Horst Seehofer, Ministerpräsident of Bavaria.
Benedict XVI does of course come from Bavaria. So that meeting with Herrn Seehofer was surely proof that Bavarians really do think of their Bundesland as a fully fleged country in its own right.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
4 March 2013