--Há uma versão em português logo abaixo--
I was having breakfast early yesterday morning when my mobile phone rang. Due to the fact that I don't use my phone regularly during this trip, I immediately knew that it was either my mum, or the call I was anxiously waiting for. When I saw that it was an unknown number, I immediately knew it was "the call".
And it really was. It was the Pope's private secretary, asking if I was still in Rome and if I would like to come to the Vatican this morning. I didn't need to check my agenda to agree to be there at 06:45.
Yes, I was going to meet the Pope!
My "Pope Plan" started before the beginning of this trip. I knew that meeting the Pope is not a simple task, if you ask the one billion people who have the Pope as their leader if they want to meet him, you will never hear "No" as an answer.
I wrote him a letter first saying that I'm not catholic, but because of the media coverage of the Pope's election, I was aware of it and I was glad that the new Pope was not only a simple and kind man with a strong view to social issues, but also a neighbor of mine, since I'm from the Brazilian southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, which shares a border with Argentina.
I talked about my world bike tour and since this trip is about getting to know new people, cultures and places, I would like to meet Mr. Francisco. I asked him not to contact the bureaucracy of the Vatican, because they receive this kind of request every day, but to tell the Pope that there was a "gaucho" (what people in my state are called) travelling the world by bike who would be "molto felice" to meet him, and to ask the Pope directly if he would agree.
Then I sent him another letter when I arrived in Italy and others when I arrived in Rome. He told the Pope this morning that he had received 15 letters from me, which surprised me as I had not remembered sending so many.
Yesterday I spent the whole day with mixed feelings: excitement, thoughts, and disbelief that it really had been the Pope's secretary on the phone and not a prank call. So I shared the big news with only my family and a few close friends, in Holland, Brazil and Chile.
At 06:40 I was allowed to go in, but at the second gate I was stopped by the Vatican police who told me I couldn't go in with my bike, "This is the Vatican not Rome" then I told him about the call, and that the Swiss guard had my name. After some calls he allowed me to go in, to the surprise of the other guard who asked "by bike?"
We got inside and he became my "guide". We entered the small chapel, where he said the pope would celebrate mass in a few minutes, and explained the procedures of the mass to me. I think it was the first mass I've followed from beginning to end.
He celebrated mass, and with the respect I have for all religions, I did what I was supposed to do: standing and sitting when I saw the people doing so. The mass lasted about 25 minutes and when it was over, the Pope left and everyone else started leaving as well.
The Pope knew I was not catholic, and I know that he's a very simple guy who doesn't care much about protocol and stuff. So I treated him in the same way I treat everyone I meet on this trip: with a smile, kindness, and affection.
I didn't kiss his ring, instead we shook hands and hugged.
We talked about a lot of things while we walked outside to where my bike was. We spoke in Spanish, and I gave him the greetings sent by the priests of Santiago of Chile, where I lived and have friends that I had called yesterday.
He knows Porto Alegre, my city, he said he has relatives in Pelotas, another city in my state. In fact when he lived in Buenos Aires he went to my state many times to visit his family.
We spoke about the tragedy of Santa Maria, and I said that during all the years I have been living abroad that was the news I heard from Brazil that most got me down. Around 240 people died in that fire, only young people. He said that he couldn't go to Santa Maria, since it's too far from the places where he will be next week in Brazil, but he also found it a tragedy and he would remember that while in Brazil.
When we got outside, the Pope shook hands with the guys of the Swiss guard who were by the door and I did the same. I showed him my bike and spoke about my trip. I said, "this is my house, the bed, kitchen, and so on. He asked me questions and we both laughed when I said that you find crazy people everywhere including in Porto Alegre, the Pope said, "life is crazy!!"
"Que Dios te acompañe - Francisco - 18-7-13" (May God accompany you).
Then I shared some thoughts about religion, that I'm not going to write here, and the last thing we spoke was about the protest in Brazil. I said it is something really positive, when injustices start to suffocate the people, the best thing is to explode in that way, and then to be heard and noticed, it's like crying, it cleanses you and makes you feel better.
I know the Pope is very busy and I didn't want to be told by someone that it was time to go, so I thanked him for his kindness in inviting me in and asked the "friend" who I wrote the letter to, to also sign my flag because if it was not for him, I wouldn't have had the opportunity for this experience.
We said good bye and from there I cycled to St. Peter's Square, where I am right now, writing this post and announcing to my friends and people who are going to read this, that life is simple like that, one day you can be camping in the forest without a shower and the next day you can be telling jokes to the Pope.
The secret is to not take anything seriously.
Life is crazy!