Pastry dialogue

I wandered into Rome’s Jewish ghetto neighborhood because I read an intriguing little report about Pope Benedict’s favorite bakery.

The tiny Limentani pastry shop has long been a favorite of mine. I go for the same reason most Jewish pizzapeople go: their “Jewish pizza,” a type of miniature fruit cake packed with almonds, raisins and other stuff I’ve never identified. It looks terrible and tastes great.

I asked the senior woman behind the counter about the report that the pope had their sweets delivered to his table. Through a series of phrases and gestures, she let me know that it was somewhere between maybe and probably true.

“The other pope, too,” she said. Before I could respond, customers in the jam-packed bakery began talking excitedly about John Paul II, the “other pope,” the one who in 1986 came to visit their synagogue a block away.

“He and Rabbi Toaff were great friends,” one woman said. That prompted a whole new round of assent and acclamation in the shop. When Pope John Paul died, Elio Toaff, Rome’s former chief rabbi, made a moving visit to pray before the pope’s body. In his own spiritual testament, John Paul remembered the rabbi in a special way. “Now that was a pope!” one customer said.

They were still talking about Pope John Paul when I left the pastry shop, toting my pizza ebraica.

I passed by the synagogue, where 22 years ago I watched Pope John Paul pay his visit. I still remember the impression he made when he called Jews “our beloved elder brothers.”

At the street level of interreligious dialogue, those personal gestures endure. Pope Benedict also visited a synagogue in his native Germany, but he’s not as well known by the Rome Jewish community. His taste in pastries could change that.

Popemobile shipped to U.S.

(Cross-post from the CNS Vatican page.)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — While Pope Benedict XVI probably has not begun packing his bags for his April 15-20 trip to the United States, one big Vatican package was prepared just after Easter.

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he rides in the popemobile through downtown Sao Paulo shortly after his arrival in Brazil last year. (CNS/Reuters)The white, 2002 Mercedes-Benz popemobile has left the Vatican and will be delivered by an air cargo company in the first days of April, said Alberto Gasbarri, the chief organizer of papal trips.

The Vatican has three popemobiles currently in use:

— A four-month-old, open-topped Mercedes based on the company’s G500-series sport utility vehicle, used almost exclusively in St. Peter’s Square. The vehicle has an attachable, curved windshield that can protect the pope from rain and wind. Mercedes describes the color as “Vaticanmystic white.”

— Two closed, white popemobiles, which are modified versions of the Mercedes-Benz ML430 off-road vehicle. The “glass” top is a cube made of advanced, bulletproof plastic. Both vehicles feature a high seat so the pope can still be visible.

One of the ML430 models is being used for the U.S. trip, Gasbarri said.

While long, multiple-city papal trips often require shipping both popemobiles to different cities, then flying them to another stop, Gasbarri said, “With only two cities on this trip, one popemobile will be enough.”

An official in the Vatican motor pool said there really was not a choice to make between the two ML430s since “one is in the repair shop.”

Mercedes-Benz originally delivered one of the vehicles with a “mother of pearl” tint, but the Vatican decided it was too gray, and so repainted it, the motor pool official said.

PHOTO: Pope Benedict XVI waves as he rides in the popemobile through downtown Sao Paulo shortly after his arrival in Brazil last year. (CNS/Reuters)