Pope Francis is given a model of an ITA aeroplane during his audience with ITA Airways staff in the Vatican Pope Francis is given a model of an ITA aeroplane during his audience with ITA Airways staff in the Vatican  (VATICAN MEDIA Divisione Foto)

Pope to ITA Airways staff: You give wings to the Pope!

Pope Francis receives a delegation of representatives of ITA Airways, Italy’s state airline that provides the Holy Father with all of his outgoing passages during his Apostolic Journeys. As per diplomatic agreements, he almost always flies back to the Vatican on board the national airline of the nation from which he departs.

By Linda Bordoni

“Thank you for ‘landing” here in the Vatican,” Pope Francis said to the delegation of ITA Airways representatives whom he received in audience on Friday morning.

“In a way,” he said, “you represent ‘the Pope's wings,’ for you enable the Successor of Peter to fly to the ends of the earth carrying the Gospel of hope and peace.”

“Sometimes I wonder: had St Paul been able to travel by plane, what would have happened?”

And indeed, the Pope continued, it was a Pope who bore the saint’s name who boarded an Alitalia DC8 on 4 January 1964 and became the first Pontiff in history to board an aeroplane for an apostolic pilgrimage.

Pope St Paul VI the first Pontiff to fly

He recalled that Pope St. Paul VI harboured a fierce desire to travel to the Holy Land, and at the end of the second session of the Second Vatican Council, he enthusiastically announced his decision to undertake the “short but intense” journey to the Council Fathers.

“That flight, that departed from Rome-Fiumicino and arrived in Amman, inaugurated papal travels across the world”:

“A new way of carrying out the pastoral ministry of the Petrine Pope, which allowed the Bishop of Rome to reach so many people who would never have been able to make a pilgrimage to Rome.”

After that first journey, Pope Francis continued, St. Paul VI made eight more, touching on every continent.

He then recalled the fact that St. Pope John Paul II made 104 international journeys in his 27 years of pontificate. “This form of mission became an integral part of the pontificate,” he said.

And, he added, it is how his successor, Benedict XVI travelled, and how he too continues to do so.

Upcoming journeys

"In a fortnight, God willing, I will depart for my 41st apostolic pilgrimage to visit Hungary. And then there will be Marseilles, and Mongolia... and other places that are on the waiting list," he said.

The Holy Father noted that ITA – which has recently replaced Alitalia – provides a service that requires competence, care and attention to many details, including “the not-easy logistics!”

“The Pope who - as you see has some mobility problems - knows this well, but thanks also to your help can continue to travel!”

He highlighted the fact that it is very important for him “to meet people, to meet communities, the faithful, believers of other religions, women and men of goodwill...”

“Meeting in person, speaking in person, is different from being present with a message, perhaps with a video. It is not the same,” he said.

The Pope concluded by explaining that he travels “to confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith, to be close to those who suffer, to help those who work for peace.”

“All this is also possible thanks to you. For this I thank you and, as long as God wills, we will continue to fly together.”

Preparing to welcome the Pope on board ITA Airways
Preparing to welcome the Pope on board ITA Airways

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14 April 2023, 12:52