Here’s how it happened: Some years ago, I was leading a group of Catholic business leaders to Rome and almost to Poland. (I say “almost” because I broke my foot on the cobblestones in Rome and had to fly home—and I will likely die without ever having visited the birthplace of Blessed JPII.)
To help with the Poland portion of the trip, we enlisted a young Polish Dominican, Fr. Wojciech Giertych. I had arranged a working dinner with Father Giertych in Rome, and we talked about our plans to see Our Lady of Częstochowa and the concentration camps and the birthplace of Karol Wojtyla and the Wieliczka Salt Mine. But alas, just a day or two later, that stupendous stumble on the Via della Conciliazione—and I was homeward bound.
Some years later, my friend Father Giertych was named Theologian of the Papal Household. (That post, he explained, is traditionally held by a Dominican; and he, a young Dominican college professor, had both the credentials and the youthful energy for the job.) He was to have an apartment in the Apostolic Palace; but his quarters needed remodeling, and things move slowly inside the walls of Vatican City—so he had been assigned temporary quarters: a room at the Domus Sanctae Marthae.
By that time, I was again planning a trip to Rome—this time for Guest House, an American treatment center for Catholic clergy and religious—so I phoned Father Giertych and invited him to join our group for dinner. Always gracious, he accepted; and he invited us to visit him at the Domus.
In mid-afternoon, the Swiss Guards were checking our credentials, then admitting us through the iron gates just to the left of St. Peter’s Basilica. We walked to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where we were admitted into a quiet lobby, then ushered into a small sitting room near the lobby, where our host Fr. Giertych greeted us. For perhaps half an hour, we sat making small talk in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the modest Vatican hotel which had been erected to house cardinals during a Conclave, and where our new Pope Francis has just decided to take up permanent residence.
Later that evening, we enjoyed dinner at a nearby trattoria, where Father Giertych, always a teacher, outlined complex theological concepts on his napkin.
All of this to say, Look! A peek inside the pope’s home!
Now, take a look back at my tour of the Vatican Gardens.