On Wednesday evenings Pope Shenouda III answers questions from his flock and then lectures on a point of theology.
It seems like we have been at the Cathedral for hours already and this, the main event, is just now beginning.The Pope rises and stands at a podium, his image enlarged and projected on the large screens above him for all to see.
He welcomes the audience and then begins to sort through a handful of paper – questions submitted to him for his response in a Papal version of the “Dear Abby” newspaper column.
The questions run the gamut from the sanctimonious (“I want to be a priest, but in my heart I fear I am not as worthy as others say I am. . . “) to the slightly silly (“There is this girl in my class and I find it hard to concentrate. . . “). It is Valentine’s Day, so many, many of the questions have a relationship angle. Although we have semi-simultaneous translations delivered directly into our ears, the translator isn’t very good and I miss a lot of what is going on.
Still, I pick up enough to be impressed by the Pope – he is smart, but he also seems to have a sense of humor. He responds to both the sanctimonious and the silly, but with little jabs and jokes that make it clear that the sanctimonious need to get over themselves while the silly should grow up a bit. He tosses aside the questions that don’t interest him – along with some more interesting ones that seem to lead in directions he obviously prefers to avoid. A few get unsatisfyingly pat answers, but he also mulls over a few that seem to truly intrigue him. He also jokes about it being Valentine’s Day.
I wish we would have been able to have a private audience with him.
After some time, he seems to get bored with the questions and brings this part of the evening to a close.
We have a new translator for the Pope’s formal lecture – one who is fast and easy-to-understand. I feel like I’m a member of the UN or something, with the Pope’s words being translated almost as he is speaking them. It’s an odd sensation. I can see (and hear) the Pope speaking and I can clearly here words being delivered directly into my ear, but there is this weird disconnect. It is both disconcerting and very cool at the same time.
But it has been a long day, so, even with a good translator, it is hard to follow the words, let alone their meaning – it is a complicated lecture on the intricacies of Coptic doctrine on the nature of Christ’s divinity. At least, I think that is the topic. I am floating, rather lost, amid the words . . . too ignorant about the topic, too stiff from sitting here, and too tired from a full day of activities to understand very much.
As I increasingly lose track of the Pope’s point, I let my mind wander where it wants while I observe the scene. There are still people moving about in the darkness beyond the Pope’s small illuminated sphere. Even now the chaos seems barely restrained. I wonder what it would be like to attend an audience with the Roman Catholic Pope. I imagine it as unhurried and imperial, very different from tonight.
I think I like the odd casualness of this better.
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