Before ending his two-week summer sojourn in Bressanone on Monday, Pope Benedict received honorary citizenship from municipal officials. Residents of the northern Italian town are hoping the tribute will give the pontiff one more reason to come back next year.
Bressanone (also known as Brixen in English) is nestled in the South Tirol and has a lot going for it as a papal getaway spot. A Roman settlement that became a church stronghold in the Middle Ages, its historic center is well preserved and the surrounding countryside is dotted with abbeys, hermitages and shrines. Throw in the cool summer climate and spectacular views of the Dolomites, and what more could a pope ask for?
Pope Benedict is no stranger to these parts. Although this was his first stay in Bressanone as pope, he spent many summers here as a cardinal, writing, praying, meditating and playing piano — activities that formed much of his agenda this summer.
At the citizenship award ceremony, the pope gave a short talk that town officials may want to engrave on a large plaque somewhere. He described the first time he saw the distinctive towers of Bressanone, surrounded by vineyards and mountains, a place where history and beauty still thrived. “I knew then: This is a nice place!” He went on to call it a model for Europe, a town where Christian roots and identity are still present in the culture.
What the pope didn’t say was whether he’d be back, though he quipped that with his new Bressanone citizenship “even when I cannot come, I’ll still be in some way legally present.”
It was Pope John Paul II who began the tradition of spending part of the summer in the northern Italian mountains, and he would usually stay either in the Aosta Valley in northeastern Italy or the Alps in Italy’s northwest. Hosting the pope has been a publicity boon for those places, and this year Bressanone also found itself in the limelight, with more than 200 journalists accredited for the papal vacation there.
Last Sunday, chatting on-air with the Vatican spokesman, an Italian TV announcer posed the question that was on the minds of local inhabitants: Would Pope Benedict would make Bressanone his annual vacation spot? The spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, danced ably around the question, promising only that if he did return, the pope would know he was welcome.