Have red hat, will travel

February 27, 2008

Shortly after Pope Benedict was elected in April, 2005, he made it clear that he would not be travelling as much as his globe-trotting predecessor John Paul II. He has made only seven trips outside Italy so far, most of them short, unlike some of John Paul’s marathon journeys that sometimes lasted up to two weeks. Benedict’s shortest was one day, to Spain, and the longest was five days in Brazil.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at Havana’s Catholic cathedral, 22 Feb. 2008/Enrique de la OsaNow it seems that Benedict is looking increasingly to his Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, to be not only his deputy pope inside the Vatican walls but also his deputy traveller on the world stage. Bertone has just wound up a significant and news-making trip to Cuba, which coincided with Fidel Castro’s decision to step down as president and hand over the reins to his younger brother Raul. The Vatican treated Bertone’s visit almost as a papal visit, sending text of all of the some 20 speeches and sermons he made to reporters via e-mail and its Web site. On the final day of Bertone’s visit, they issued four speeches (speeches in Spanish and Italian here).

Bertone, who had no diplomatic experience before he was named secretary of state to succeed Cardinal Angelo Sodano, is a close friend of the pope. He worked with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when the future pope was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The highlight of Bertone’s trip, which took place on the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul’s historic visit to Cuba in 1998, was his meeting with the new President Raul Castro. He did just about everything a pope would have done on a papal trip — he met the head of state, said masses, visited seminaries and local churches. The only thing he did that a pope would not normally do was hold news conferences.

Cuban President Raul Castro and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 26 Feb. 2008/poolJust as Bertone was putting Cuba under his cardinal’s sash, the Vatican announced on Feb 26 that he would make a visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan on March 2-9. A statement, here in Italian, said the trip would allow Bertone to “show the closeness of the Holy Father Benedict to the Catholic faithful of those countries.”

The Italian media gave a high profile to Bertone’s trip to Cuba and some Italian journalists who normally cover the Vatican, including La Repubblica‘s Marco Politi, travelled to the island to cover it as they would have for a papal trip. Watch this space for more travels by the deputy-pope-cum-deputy-traveller.

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