The Last Lap: Havana-Rome

Pope Meets Reporters

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By Paloma Rives, Special Correspondent

ROME, APRIL 3, 2012 ( We were leaving the hotel, our headquarters in Havana. The first thing we thought is that the 10 hours of the trip to Rome would be hours of silence.  To tell the truth, we liked that idea, because 10 or at least 8 hours of restoring rest is not a bad thing.

We handed in our bags at the hotel, received our boarding pass and continued to load images on the Facebook page of ZENIT News Agency.

Now it’s time to get on the bus. While going through the streets of Havana, we saw some Cubans taking leave of His Holiness. It was lovely to see that some of them could not hide their joy. There were different comments on the bus and few complained or expressed their disagreement with something related to the trip.

What should be seen is the impressive testimony of the great majority of journalists admitted on the papal flight, with 100% dedication, and not a minute of rest, concentrated at all times in making the best effort. What a level of clear attitude of work in a team and of care in the way of relating to ones’ companions!

On arriving at the airport, we note that it’s starting to rain. The flight will probably be delayed a bit but, in any case, it’s the last lap.

We take our places and, while waiting, everything changes from what we had imagined. Instead of silence, there are conversations full of camaraderie, of good wishes and, of course, of exchange of experiences.

How long will you be in Rome? When are you coming to my country? Take my card to stay in touch by e-mail or Skype. What joy! Not only must we be grateful for the lovely experience of accompanying His Holiness on a pastoral visit, but also grateful for the new friends that the dynamics of this work gives us. “I almost missed the bus,” someone says smiling. “I got tired of just eating sandwiches in the press room,” says another.

We agree to see one another in Rome and we are now about to take-off. We make ourselves comfortable. Sweaters, blankets for the cold, pillows for our heads are part of the accoutrements for the 10 remaining hours of rest. We pray and begin to curl up in the seat when, totally unexpectedly, Vick, our Russian coordinator approaches, who at one time was an activist in the Soviet Union, and in Italian he asks us to take off the accreditation badges and to sit up properly. What’s going on? Is something happening? No, he is about to pass by. To the right of our seat a fellow traveler says that perhaps the Pope is going to pass through the plane’s aisles.  There comes upon us a mixture of nervousness and alertness to prepare the cameras. Immediately, in a matter of seconds, we are asked to stand up and leave our cameras. I still don’t understand. No doubt my look is very strange and full of confusion, especially as there were only 10 of us standing. The others have been instructed to stay in their places.

I turn to the left and I see that among those standing is Pedro Ferriz de Con of Cadena Tres, Valentina Alasraki of Televisa, Arcelia Becerra of A.M. newspaper – we are all Mexicans. We take a few steps forward and to my right, someone, seeing my confusion, says: “No doubt the Pope is going to receive you.”

I still can’t explain how I felt at that moment, or write what I would like to share in these lines: surprise, emotion, nervousness, hope, love.

I heard that Maria Eugenia, representative of Milenio newspaper is embarrassed not to be properly attired as she was on previous days. Susy tells her not to worry, that we are all in the same conditions because of exhaustion and because it was the last day. So be it. We are all in the same conditions. Ferriz de Con takes my hand and says: “Don’t worry, it’s your soul the Holy Father is going to see.” My tears begin to fall and I try to prepare myself for this unforgettable moment.

We go forward and find ourselves in the plane’s second section. Just one more to go and we will see Benedict XVI straight ahead. Maria Antonieta Collins of Univision passes by. From the beginning I thought she was a woman of faith and very good intentions and when I saw her face, after speaking with the His Holiness, this impression was confirmed. What a lovely expression!

I am now two steps away and the tears keep falling down my cheeks. One of the cardinals accompanying him looks at me with tenderness and that gives me security. Thank you.

The Vicar of Christ is seated in one of the white seats at the front of the plane. He is sitting by the window. Father Federico Lombardi, tells him who he is receiving and says: Paloma Rives of the ZENIT Agency.” I kneel and kiss his hand with the ring of the Supreme Pontiff. I look up and he, with his hand, pulls my arm gently as if to say: get up.

Father Lombardi asks me to sit next to the Holy Father. He, God’s representative on earth, takes my hand and listens when I say: “Thank you, Holiness, thank you because on this trip I fulfilled three great dreams: to serve God in journalism, to have the honor of accompanying you on a pastoral trip and your blessing for my daughter and my son, for my family.”

“A dream,” he said gently.

“Yes, Holiness,” I answered. I come on behalf of ZENIT and of Presente, a newspaper of Tabasco in Mexico.

He never stopped looking into my eyes. I will never forget the profundity, the peace and serenity of that very blue, very clear and crystalline look. Even though God has given me great and strong moments, I don’t think that I ever had in my life one of more hope and faith, than the instant I am describing.

He saw my tears, he squeezed my hand with his gentle hands and with immense tenderness said: “The blessing.” I lowered my head, I got up, I kissed his hand again and went back to my seat.

As everything progressed I thought of each and all of those who made it possible for me to be there: “I bless ZENIT, to each and every one of those who made such an effort and gave me this opportunity. I bless Presente newspaper, which believed in my work. I bless my family which is what I most love.”

I thought those 10 hours would be silent, tranquil. It was the strongest moment of the whole trip; it was the last lap.

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