Italy travel journal: An out-of-context encounter in Rome

I have been home for a couple of weeks, re-adjusting to normal (non-travelling) life and sorting through the 4,000 pictures I took in Italy. Lots of favourites are emerging and I’m trying to find some way to edit them down. At the same time, my blogging muscles have gotten rusty and I’ve found it hard to collect my thoughts about a pretty memorable and enjoyable trip.

In previous posts, I’ve documented my dumb luck and good fortune. In Rome, those two forces collide when I met a pope by a drinking fountain.

How a coincidence happens

I visited Rome at the same time the Community of Sant’Edigio hosted a wide-ranging religion, culture, peace and spirituality conference called “The Courage to Hope” which featured participants across the faith spectrum. Seriously, it was the most impressive collection of faith practitioners I have ever seen and will ever see in my lifetime. Of course I saw Catholic priests, and Christians of every order, but also Buddhist monks, rabbis, imams, and many, many more.

The Courage to Hope (Source: Conference website)

Finding the Fontana della botte

I was exploring Rome’s Trastevere neighbourhood, looking for a particularly fancy water fountain I had seen the previous evening. Like many places in Italy, Rome has countless free-running water fountains. Generally, this is a great deal for travellers because a fresh water refill is only a few blocks away.

Free tip: carry a water bottle, don’t bother buying water. The water in Italy is beyond just drinkable, it’s fantastic and a source of local and national pride.

When I found the fountain, the Fontana della botte (“Barrel fountain”) on Via della Cisterna, it was in use by a bunch of men in robes. I was near Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere and the conference proceedings were wrapping up for the day, so the scene didn’t seem so unusual. The man guiding the group was explaining the Roman trick for turning the free-running tap into a proper drinking fountain: block the tap, water will shoot out of a hole drilled in the top. The dignified men seemed to enjoy the demonstration, having a few laughs at the whimsical, yet unexpected, convenience.

Trastevere Rome drinking water fountain Fontana della botte

At this point, the Monsignor providing the tour, the man demonstrating in the picture, came over to me and said:

Monsignor: “You should know the Patriarch is a very serious man. He’s having a little fun at the moment, but he’s normally very serious.”

Me: “Great, I’m glad he’s enjoying his tour!”

The group gave me a friendly wave and continued on. I refilled my water bottle.

Here’s the thing: the man with the white hair and beard, referred to as the Patriarch (second from the left in the above photo) is better known as Theodorus II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa. 

A Pope-ly Encounter

Say what?! The Patriarch is the head of the Greek (Eastern) Orthodox church in Africa. I did a fair amount of research to get a handle on Eastern Orthodox churches and where Theodorus II fits into the scheme of things. I’m still working through a lot of it, but needless to say, the research convinced me he’s a pretty important man, and running into him at a drinking fountain in Trastevere was unexpected, if not remarkable.

Here’s the Patriarch participating in the conference’s closing ceremony, he seems pretty merry, doesn’t he? He also met with Pope Francis  a couple of days before I saw Pope Francis, so we’re basically living parallel lives.

The Courage to Hope (Source: Conference website)

Have you encountered someone famous completely out of context? Tell all in the comments!




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