Anne-Sophie Legge is press and cultural affairs officer at the German Embassy to the Holy See. Federal President Gauck paid a visit on 6 December.
“Holy Father, it is a great pleasure to be here today. I come as the Federal President to greet a fellow countryman and, above all, as an individual and Christian.” With these words, Federal President Joachim Gauck greeted Pope Benedict XVI in front of his private library in the Apostolic Palace on 6 December. A moving moment which I had the honour to witness along with a few select journalists.
Available to journalists at all times
Together with the Press and Information Office of the Federal Government, I was responsible for liaising with the media during the visit. We ensured that the press programme went off smoothly and that last-minute requests could be taken on board. The journalists accompanying the Federal President had many questions, too. They wanted to know about the current situation in the Holy See, learn more about the history of the Campo Santo or find out where they could pop in to buy a rosary for their grandmothers in the evening.
Time flew during Joachim Gauck’s stay in the Vatican, which lasted less than 24 hours: a private audience with the Pope, brief talks with Vatican State Secretary Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, lunch with senior Vatican dignitaries at the German Ambassador’s residence and a visit to the German seminary, Campo Santo Teutonico.
Detailed planning …
I was quite excited ahead of the Federal President’s arrival. He was finally coming! After all, the preparation in the Embassy had gone on for weeks. Everything had to be planned in minute detail. How and where did which journalists accompanying the Federal President have to be accredited to the Vatican? How could local German correspondents be included? Who was permitted to be present at the photocall during the audience with the Pope? Where in front of St. Peter’s Square did the police have to cordon off an area for the press statement after the audience?
... and something unexpected always happens
Up until the end, there were repeated programme changes or something unexpected cropped up. For example, the call from the hotel in which the briefing with the Federal President was to take place on the eve of the audience. The room next to the one approved by an entire team from the Federal Foreign Office Protocol Division, the Office of the Federal President and the Press and Information Office of the Federal Government during a preparatory visit had been hired by a large group for a Christmas party which was set to take place at the same time. They had booked the adjacent room and the whole of the lounge until late into the night. I had horrifying visions of the Federal President contemplating a particularly serious issue and, instead of his answer, all that can be heard is a loud “bingo” from the adjoining room. A new room had to be found.
There are sure to be other visitors
In the end, all members of the Embassy were pleased that the visit had gone off well. “Until the next time,” said the airport staff as the Federal President’s aircraft took off and the red carpet was rolled back up. They were right, for many Germans want to visit the Pope. The next delegation will almost certainly be on its way soon.