A yellow Labrador Retriever was among the firsts privileged to receive a physical blessing from Pope Francis’s hands this weekend.
Belonging to a visually impaired radio journalist, Asià entered the Vatican’s vast Paul VI audience hall on Saturday and quietly sat down close to his owner as the pontiff thanked thousands of journalists from all over the world. They all came to Rome to cover the conclave that led to his election as the first Jesuit, first non-European, first Latin American pontiff.
“As I waited in line to enter the hall, the security guards told me that most likely I wouldn’t be allowed to get in with the dog,” Alessandro Forlani, who works for Italian RAI radio, wrote on his Facebook page.
“But after a few minutes, Vatican officials gave me the green light and I was accompanied by a Swiss guard to the audience hall. They let me sat near the first row of seats,” Forlani said.
At the end of the pope’s magnetic speech, a selected group of media notables and Vatican-linked communicators, was presented to the pontiff.
While the journalists lined up to be greeted by Pope Francis – some performing the “baciamano,” the traditional kissing the pope’s ring, others embracing him in bear hugs – Vatican officials approached Forlani.
“They said that Pope Francis had asked to meet me. He had seen Asià and wanted to see both of us,” Forlani said.
Asià walked on the stage, briefly sniffed the Pope’s white dress and black shoes and then waited patiently as Forlani talked to the pontiff.
“I asked for a blessing for my wife and daughter at home,” Forlani told Discovery News.
In a fitting image for a pope inspired by the patron saint of animals, Francis bent down to caress the dog.
“He said, ‘and a special blessing for you dog too.’ He broke the ceremonial rules as my presence on stage with Asià wasn’t previously arranged,” Forlani said.
It wasn’t the only exception during the audience. Pope Francis departed from the prepared speech and offered insights on the conclave, revealing that cardinals suggested for him the papal name Hadrian after Pope Hadrian VI, who introduced reforms at the Vatican.
“Another told me, ‘No, no, your name must be Clement XV. That way you would get revenge on Clement XIV who suppressed the Jesuits,” he joked.
The 76-year-old pope confirmed that he decided to take the name Francis after St Francis of Assisi.
“He is the man of poverty, the man of peace,” he said.
“Ah, how I would like a Church that is poor,” he added, outlining his plans to make a Catholic Church an institution “of the poor, for the poor.”
Images: Asià, the yellow Labrador guide dog (top) and receiving a blessing from Pope Francis. Credit: Rossella Lorenzi