The pope’s red shoes, but not his phone number

Perhaps not content with writing the preface to a children’s book, Pope Benedict XVI’s private secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, is co-author with Christine Schropf of a slim volume, “Why Does the Pope Have Red Shoes?” The original German version — “Warum Tragt der Papst Rote Schuhe” — was released in March. Cantagalli released the Italian version earlier this month, but the publisher is closed for the holidays, so plans for other language editions cannot be verified.

In the book, Msgr. Ganswein responds to 19 questions from children, including the title query, which we’ll return to in a moment. But first, Schropf, who is a journalist, explains on the back cover that children sent in more than 150 questions. The only question the papal secretary absolutely refused to answer, she said, was: “What is the pope’s phone number?” Msgr. Ganswein told her, “If I reveal that, the telephone would ring day and night and the Holy Father would never get any rest.”

These are the shoes worn by Pope Benedict XVI at his weekly general audience Nov. 28. (CNS/Paul Haring)As for the red shoes, Msgr. Ganswein wrote that the pope’s cassock and zucchetto are white, “but all the accessories are red,” including the shoes, because red is the color of martyrdom and the pope is the successor of the martyred St. Peter. Also, he said, “red is the color of burning love, the color of the fire of the Spirit.”

 Two questions elicted particularly brief replies: First, what was the pope’s fourth-grade report card like? “Unfortunately, I don’t know, but I’m convinced it would have been excellent.”

The second question was: “When was the last time the pope cried?”

“This, I don’t know,” the secretary responded.

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