What does the Pope wear to sleep?

Rome / Bangkok -

At the very front of the road to heaven sits the Pope. Behind the entourage from the Vatican: cardinals, bishops, press officers, bodyguards. The traveling marshal and the papal master of ceremonies are always with us on the plane.

On the trip to distant countries, the Pope can quickly seek advice from the Vatican's “Foreign Minister”. And in the back sit the journalists. Francis is in Thailand and Japan until Tuesday - all in all 35 hours of flight. A long journey for an 82 year old. How does he handle it?

Unlike, for example, Chancellor Angela Merkel or the US President, the Catholic leader does not have his own plane. On the way there, the Pope always flies Alitalia. The former Italian state aviator has been bankrupt for years, and the "Santo Padre" can't change that either. But the Holy Father is loyal to the airline. On the way back, the airline of the country visited is allowed to transport the Pope back to Rome.

And where does the Pope sleep, does Francis have to squeeze into tight flight seats? “For long-haul flights, the airlines have had John Paul II and Benedict XVI. set up a small private area with a bed in the front of the machine, ”explains Cindy Wooden, coordinator of the Vatican journalists' association AIGAV. She has been flying around the world with popes for 30 years. "When Francis was preparing his first trip, to Rio de Janeiro, he asked Alitalia not to do that." But at least it has a normal business class seat.

Nobody has seen him in his pajamas yet. But it is said that he takes off his white robe to sleep and rests in black clerical clothing, which he usually wears under his cassock (much to the displeasure of some chiefs of protocol, because the black can be seen under the white).

This time the pontiff will be accompanied by around 70 journalists. The highlight is the Pope's walk through the plane to greet the reporters. He shakes hands with each one. Some people he has known for years get a kiss. He asks about the children, jokes and blesses photos of sick relatives, friends or colleagues that the reporters bring with them. Many give him gifts or books he has written himself to sign. A selfie and an autograph, please, is good for self-promotion.

It is a tight circle of Vatican journalists from all over the world. Media such as the "New York Times", news agencies or broadcasters such as the BBC or CNN are often there. But also Catholic niche media. The woman with the most papal flights is the Mexican Valentina Alazraki, she has more than 150 behind her.

It is a microcosm with its own rules. Those who want to spend the money on the flight with the Pope are called “Vamp” - Vatican Accredited Media Personnel. Who is a "vamp" belongs to it. Anyone who is a “vamp” only paid 5665 euros for the flight to Japan and Thailand. The Vatican keeps to itself why this is so expensive.

In return, Francis presents himself on the plane as the approachable man of the people. With a French reporter, who told him about his upcoming wedding on the way to Bangkok, he joked: "Ah, so you are on your way to prison." Like what? The Pope considers marriage a prison, the reporters shouted confused. Can you do that as a headline, doesn't the editorial team want something crisp? No, it was just a joke.

On the return flight, Francis answered questions from journalists at a press conference. Legendary statements such as that Catholics should not reproduce "like rabbits" have fallen in the air. “With Benedict XVI. the conferences were more controlled. The journalists had to submit questions, and the Vatican decided which the Pope would answer, ”says the journalists' commissioner Wooden. Francis is more open. But in the meantime the Vatican has also decided that questions about travel must be asked above all.

Too bad. Because actually the question would be interesting whether the Pope does not want to give up flying completely in view of the climate catastrophe. After all, he himself preaches that the earth is facing man-made doom. Next year the Argentine is said to want to go to South Sudan, Iraq and Indonesia. It is unlikely, however, that he will sail there following the example of Greta Thunberg. (dpa)