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
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.
Better yet, he hasn’t forgotten us.
MARK BENNETT: At 71, Paul McCartney still rocking it eight days a week
I’ll admit, I worried about Paul McCartney during the blistering intro to “Helter Skelter.”
MARK BENNETT: Forget the cellphone, enjoy the summer
The third rail post from the left on the second-floor patio. By holding a cellphone at eye level, with your left hand, while standing perfectly still, without blinking, a faint one-bar signal was possible. Possible. Otherwise, there was no connection to the outside world at this retreat spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where my wife and I stayed earlier this month
MARK BENNETT: Time for surf, sand and a good book
I can read a book on the beach. Until I start sweating. Then it feels like exercise, minus the fitness perks. My brain shifts into neutral as the waves roll in, blissfully washing away footprints in the sand and my inclination to think. Better put, I enjoy starting a book on the beach, and finishing it later, elsewhere.
Police: Mom, son conspire to kill witness
The Clay County Sheriff’s Department seems to have prevented what it believes was a mother-and-son conspiracy to commit murder.
Banks of the Wabash Festival is more than just yearly entertainment
Pioneers think counterintuitively. Where others see widespread apathy, they focus on the possibility for progress. In a way, the 2013 Year of the River celebration began in the 1970s.
MARK BENNETT: After running for 28 hours straight, what’s another 5 miles?
Some phrases can only be uttered by a few people, or none at all.
MARK BENNETT: Glitches show limitations of high-stakes testing concept
The dog ate my homework. That age-old excuse — based on a shockingly unforeseen complication — rarely works for a kid who didn’t finish yesterday’s math assignment. Yet, in a role reversal, Indiana school children, along with their teachers and administrators, are left to accept an explanation for a disruption best described as the mother of all ironies.
MARK BENNETT: One step at a time to save lives
Remember that name.
MARK BENNETT: Sometimes, the mere posing of questions is significant
The era seems quaint now, almost like a fable. When people left their house doors unlocked. When the sight of a police officer in a school meant it was Career Day.
MARK BENNETT: New reality steers Nashville singer to Crossroads for Historical Society concert
People pass through the Crossroads of America for lots of reasons.
Business trips. College campus events. Federal prison sentences. Visits with relatives. Gas pitstops.
Or maybe a career change and a twist of fate.
Ty Brown makes his first stop in downtown Terre Haute as the headliner of a multi-band Sweet Sensations Country Jam concert May 4 in the Ohio Building — a fundraiser for the Vigo County Historical Society.
MARK BENNETT: Terre Haute barber ‘sharpens up’ customers for 50 years
People streamed through this section of downtown Terre Haute in those days.
“You could hardly walk by here,” John Hochhalter said, pointing toward the sidewalk outside the window.
The bustle has faded since the early 1960s. Hochhalter remains. He’s still barbering in the same shop he and late business partner Kenny Thomas opened a half-century ago this week.
MARK BENNETT: Memories, emotions rush back with announcement of new pope
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.
MARK BENNETT: Reflections of grid success stir with Brent Anderson’s passing
A few hundred miles away, and nearly 40 years gone by, a special game ball still occupies a fond place in Rudy Bohinc’s memories.
- More Mark Bennett B-Sides Headlines
- John bypassed by Hall of Fame again