TERRE HAUTE —
I saw a pope once.
Read quickly, that sentence sounds too casual, almost as if we’d crossed paths at Home Depot.
Say it slowly, though, and the significance comes through.
Granted, my view came at a distance. I stood on Bernini’s colonnade overlooking St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, peering between a few of the 140 statues of the saints on Oct. 15, 2006. That Sunday morning, under a burst of unexpected sunshine, Pope Benedict XVI walked in a procession toward St. Peter’s Basilica and canonized Mother Theodore Guerin — a resilient pioneer who founded the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods — as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, along with three others. The impact of the moment became clear, even from that lofty perch.
The Vatican reserved that stretch of the colonnade for journalists. Standing nearby was a young woman from a Latin American newspaper, snapping photos and jotting notes. As Pope Benedict affirmed sainthood on Rafael Guizar Valencia, an early 20th-century bishop from Mexico, tears streamed down that reporter’s cheeks as she watched through her camera’s lens.
That sight and plenty of others revealed the profound spot this place near the Mediterranean Sea holds in hearts worldwide.
Memories of that trip seven years ago rushed back Wednesday as news and images from Rome flowed onto the wire services, unveiling new Pope Francis to 1.2 billion Catholics and the world. In just Day 2 of their conclave in the Sistine Chapel, the 115 cardinals elected humble Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as the successor to Benedict, who surprised everybody last month by becoming the first pope in centuries to resign.
A rain-soaked crowd of thousands cheered as the new pope spoke from the basilica balcony.
Interesting things happen indeed in that center of religious faith, majestic structures and masterful artistry.
That assignment for this newspaper years ago was an eye-opener as my wife and I made our first visit to Rome. We weren’t alone. More than 500 other local folks trekked to Italy for the canonization, perhaps the largest assembly of Hauteans in Rome in the history of our fair city.
For my wife and me, the lessons began immediately, beginning with the taxi ride to our hotel. The cabbie — a thirtysomething guy with a shaved head, T-shirt and jeans — drove at breakneck speed through the busy, narrow streets. As we rounded a wide bend, the Vatican walls came into view. Halfway through the turn, at a pace usually reserved for get-away cars, the driver let go of the steering wheel to make the sign of the cross over his chest.
Once the blood flow to my brain resumed, I realized he wasn’t trying to terrify the Americans in his back seat. This gesture was something this man did every time he drove by that place, Vatican City — the heart of a faith led by a line of 266 pontiffs, from Peter to the new Pope Francis.
Other less heart-stopping introductions to European culture followed.
Like the bustling, rich-smelling coffeeshop we hit. I ambled up to the bar and ordered a “coffee” for me and a “latte” for my wife. The barista came back with a tall glass of foamy white milk and a tiny cup of espresso. He and I talked, briefly, as he explained the menu and I felt more Hoosier than ever.
Traffic transcended Indiana norms, too. Some intersections have no stop signs or stoplights. Turn signals and brakes seem optional. Cars and trucks are a fraction of the size of U.S. vehicles. (There wasn’t a Dodge Ram or a Ford F-150 in sight, which was weird.) Motorists park anywhere along the streets, sideways, angled, parallel, even double parked. Pedestrians take a few steps into the fray, and then either break into a sprint or rush back.
Many shops stay open from 9 to 9, but close for three hours in the afternoons. Clothing stores may appear to offer only a few items on display, but keep different sizes and colors in a back room. Cafés serve fish whole, head and tail intact. Markets feature tons of fresh fruits and veggies, as well as the occasional hog head. Pizzas taste amazing, and it’s almost impossible to find a bad wine.
Most of all, the people seemed passionate about the city, their way of life, and the reasons so many folks from foreign lands come there to visit.
I’m not sure if I’ll see Pope Francis or another pontiff in person again. Either way, the memories surrounding my one papal sighting will linger a lifetime.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
I saw a pope once.
- Mark Bennett B-Sides
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Demolition machinery chipped away at the buildings on the 500 block of Wabash Avenue. I stood and watched awhile, last week. By July 2015, a new $18.7-million structure will replace those relics.
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MARK BENNETT: Quest for the perfect Valentine’s Day gesture may not involve gifts
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MARK BENNETT: Illinois officials content their state has its business advantages, too
Most people count the Wabash River as an economic asset for Terre Haute. Of course, economic development officials in the Land of Lincoln beg to differ.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana should revisit its time-zone classification
Mister Spock would look at the situation in Indiana and, in that dispassionate “Star Trek” voice, utter a firm conclusion.
“That is illogical,” he’d say.
MARK BENNETT: Young at heart
Imagine an alternate ending to the old Life cereal commercial.
MARK BENNETT: The Drunk: Making peace
Terre Haute grew fond of Eugene Debs.
The process took time.
Debs film to debut at Indiana Theatre
Set in Terre Haute, based loosely on the legacy of a Terre Haute icon, the movie “The Drunk” has one appropriate place for its premiere.
MARK BENNETT: Album turns memories into musical Christmas message for Terre Haute’s Dave Frey, band
In a way, Dave Frey walked in the footsteps of Charles Schulz.
Both men worked hard to let Linus Van Pelt explain the “true meaning of Christmas.”
MARK BENNETT: ‘Longest Night Service’ a time to reflect, remember
Holiday images rarely depict hurt or struggle.
Raising the bar
Around coffeeshops, kitchen tables and office watercoolers, Hoosiers have cussed and discussed the federal health care law.
John bypassed by Hall of Fame again
Baseball Hall of Fame electors have bypassed Tommy John again. The Terre Haute-born pitcher, who won 288 games in 26 big-league seasons, didn’t receive enough votes from the Veterans Committee as it cast ballots on Sunday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.
Tim Meadows: SNL cast member knew he was prime time
If you watched the first broadcast of “Saturday Night Live” on Oct. 11, 1975, raise your hand.
That gives you something in common with Tim Meadows.
MARK BENNETT: Walk of Fame inductee would stand tall in any era
Unlike most of us, Amory Kinney didn’t let the wall around his comfort zone grow taller as time passed.
MARK BENNETT: Words, and what they mean, is what we remember
I remember scanning the granite wall at the grave of President John F. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, looking for those words.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John getting another shot at Baseball Hall of Fame
Go ahead, circle Dec. 9 on your calendar.
Filling our void: Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe poured his heart and soul into the project of a lifetime
Bill Wolfe thumbed through a series of photographs documenting his sculpture of basketball legend Larry Bird.
MARK BENNETT: Keeping Terre Haute a vibrant city ‘worth doing’
The past, present and future had just converged at the Crossroads of America.
The moment was made possible by the gutsy spirit of 1920s Terre Haute. Without it, the city would look starkly different.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John’s Field of Dreams
A kid pedals a bicycle, a ball glove looped over the handlebar, headed to a sandlot game.
It didn’t get much better than that for a 10-year-old in summertime.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana’s Donnelly part of ‘The Middle’ that got deal done
Hanging out in the middle isn’t cool.
Its occupants don’t attract a captivated circle of listeners at parties, their comments don’t inspire hell-yeahs on Facebook, and they don’t pretend to always be right.
MARK BENNETT: ISU professor’s book on Churchill to be TV period drama
Somewhere, Winston Churchill is lighting a celebratory cigar in Michael Shelden’s honor.
MARK BENNETT: Restoration improves courthouse top’s standing in skyline
Terre Haute has a skyline.
From some angles, it consists of billboards, restaurant marquees and convenience-store signs. From other spots, the outlines of historic buildings, church steeples, college dorms and old industries jut into the horizon.
MARK BENNETT: Inspiring project connects Blues Festival, B&G Club members with music
Think a decade into the future. You’re relaxing amid a sea of fellow lawn-chair sitters at Seventh and Wabash, watching the 23rd annual Blues at the Crossroads Festival. Suddenly, the guy on stage starts playing your old Fender guitar. He sounds like the next B.B. King. Then, the guitarist dedicates a song to the person who donated that worn Telecaster to the youth music program in which he learned to play it.
MARK BENNETT: Even Marty McFly wouldn’t want to go back to those paydays
Reliving the 1980s may sound tempting.
Ah, simpler times. Then again … hair styles as big as mushroom clouds, “Miami Vice” jackets, the trickle-down theory, New Coke, Yugos.
OK, “Back to the Future”-style nostalgia obviously has its limits.
MARK BENNETT: Hoops film focuses on life of ‘Slick’ Leonard
Many Americans connect basketball with Indiana.
MARK BENNETT: Rose-Hulman bridge design would let people walk, run, ride across Wabash River
Four months, 500 miles and 18 towns.
In the course of compiling the “500 Miles of Wabash” series, which concludes this Sunday, Tribune-Star photographer Jim Avelis and I heard valuable insights from dozens of people who live, work and recreate along Indiana’s state river. One comment seems particularly relevant to Terre Haute, especially as the ongoing 2013 Year of the River celebration stirs ideas. The quotation affirms the potential of a stellar proposal this community ought to consider.
MARK BENNETT: When did athleticism surpass skill in sports?
Baseball has gotten too athletic.
MARK BENNETT: Steve Martin keeps Terre Haute on burner
If insults are a form of flattery, Steve Martin still likes us.
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- More Mark Bennett B-Sides Headlines
- Reaching the Wabash: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river