Robert Moynihan describes a “joyful encounter” in the Domus Santa Marta:
This morning, as the hot July sun was just beginning to rise over Rome, something extraordinary happened.
Wearing a bicycle helmet and black-and-purple bicycle gloves, a black-haired young man from Porto Alegre, Brazil — the country where the Pope will meet next week with hundreds of thousands of young people for World Youth Day — rode his bicycle through the Sant’Uffizio gate of the Vatican and, with the approval of Vatican security, up to the front doors of the Domus Santa Marta, where Pope Francis is living.
His name was Leandro Martins, and he was fulfilling a dream to meet the Pope.
Martins attended the Pope’s private morning Mass, and after the Mass, Pope Francis greeted Martins with a warm embrace.
“I left Amsterdam by bicycle nine weeks ago, on the eighth of May,” Martins explained after the meeting. “I bicycled through
Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, then to Trieste, Venice, Bologna, Pisa, and finally here to Rome. I have cycled 3,154 kilometers. And now I am cycling to Brindisi, then Greece, and Israel, then Asia. I intend to cycle another 7,000 kilometers.”
What did he say to the Pope, and what did the Pope say to him?
I mentioned to him that I had been shocked by the tragedy in Brazil, in Santa Maria, where 240 people, mostly young people, died in a terrible fire,” Martins said. “He said he knew about that and was also sad. He asked me where I was living, and I said, ‘Come and see my bicycle,’ and we went outside together, and I said, ‘Here is my house, my tent, my mattress…”
Martins is not a religious person, he said, and he is nota Catholic. But he attended the Pope’s Mass (he did not receive communion).
“It was the first time in my life that I attended a Mass from beginning to end,” Martins said. “I kept expecting him to come in from the back, dressed in white, and when he came in from the side on the left [the sacristy], dressed in a green vestment, I was surprised and for a moment I was not sure it was him.
“What I found interesting was that after Mass was over the Pope came out and sat by himself. That surprised me. Then I thought I was not going to have a chance to meet him, but Monsignor Alfred brought me outside the chapel and we met and talked. What surprised me was the simplicity of the chapel. It’s so simple. He’s a simple man and everything is simple there. In these days of ostentation, where having stuff and being someone is more important than things that really matter, he speaks to people like me, he offers a different vision.”
The Pope and Martins then went back inside the Domus Santa Marta, and the Pope signed the flag of Brazil, which also had been signed by many others whom Martins had met during his journey across Europe.
Read it all and see more pictures.