The tortoise and the Herr Papst

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM ANGOLA — Non-cardinal passengers on the papal plane have to be onboard well before the pope or they get left behind — at least that’s the threat used to keep journalists moving.


Father Lombardi carries the pope's tortoise down the aisle of the papal plane during the flight from Cameroon to Angola Friday. (CNS/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

But speed seems to have nothing to do with the fact that Pope Benedict XVI’s tortoise was not onboard when the pope’s Alitalia chartered jet took off from Luanda, Angola, this morning.

The turtle tortoise, a symbol of wisdom, was a gift from a group of Pygmies from the Baka ethnic group. They gave the pope the turtle tortoise Friday as the pope was leaving Cameroon for Angola.

The eight-inch long brown turtle tortoise made Friday’s papal flight from Cameroon to Angola. But when all the reporters, cardinals and papal aides were onboard this morning for the flight back to Rome, there was no turtle tortoise in sight.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told the reporters that the tortoise was left “in good hands” at the apostolic nunciature in Luanda, Angola’s capital.

While there had been some discussion about bringing the turtle tortoise back to the Vatican gardens with its dozens of fountains, in the end, Father Lombardi said, it was decided that the turtle tortoise belonged in Africa.

The papal spokesman promised that a good home in the proper habitat would be found.

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4 Responses to The tortoise and the Herr Papst

  1. Charles Crawford says:

    Is it a turtle or a tortoise? Hint: they aren’t the same.

  2. Jim Lackey says:


    Apparently the Italian word for “turtle” and “tortoise” is the same, so that might be the reason for the imprecision on what it really is from the papal press corps.

    Jim Lackey

  3. Jim Lackey says:

    BTW, “tortoise” in the headline was an attempted play on words. Aesop didn’t write “The Turtle and the Hare.”

  4. Jim Lackey says:

    Pope’s plane has landed in Rome, and from it the word — tortoise.

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