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Another seat at the table

· Pope Francis at the Vatican cafeteria ·

It doesn't happen every day that someone can by chance eat lunch with the Pope. But it happened today. This morning, 25 July, workers and personnel of Vatican City State walked into the lunch room at noon and found the Pope eating lunch with the rest of them.

Such a visit has been thrown around as a joke, of course, but no one could have imagined it possible. It was a normal day walking into the “mensa” at noon, some workers were already seated eating their lunch, others in line for the self-service buffet. It was a day like any other, until this unexpected guest walked in at about 12:10.

Amid the sudden air of surprise, Pope Francis got in line and picked up a tray. “He chose plain white pasta with a little olive oil, cod fish, vegetables au gratin and some french fries”, the visibly moved cashier, Claudia Di Giacomo, said.

Immediately surrounded by those present, that number growing steadily by the minute, Pope Francis shook the hands of his colleagues with a smile. He then seated himself at a table with five warehouse workers from the Vatican pharmacy wearing short-sleeve blue polo shirts. “We described our work to him, how many of us there are and what we do. And he talked to us about his Italian origins”, one fellow diner explained. One of his colleagues quickly added that they also talked about football – the Pope is a passionate fan of the Argentinian team, San Lorenzo de Almagro – and even the economy. Every now and then someone would approach the table for the inevitable “selfie”. Cameras, mobiles, tablets started to appear. Pope Francis showed absolute patience and continued to smile and eat, carrying the conversation forward with his interlocutors.

When lunch was over, close to 12:50, the Pope rose from the table and posed for a few pictures – the classic momento of a Francis-sighting – in a relaxed and familiar atmosphere. Finally, before bidding farewell, he took one last picture with the cafeteria's personnel at the entrance. Pope Francis then climbed into the car with his assistant, Sandro Mariotti, who had accompanied him, and the two returned to the Santa Marta residence.

The visit lasted about 40 minutes. It was brief but sufficient for him to get to know another little corner of the Vatican world and the people who work here. Last year on 9 August, the Pope had paid another surprise visit to this section of town, arriving inconspicously that morning in a black car at the industrial centre of the Vatican and walking into the workshops of the City State's carpenters, blacksmiths, plumbers and electricians, greeting employees of L'Osservatore Romano as well, whose headquarters are located there in that tiny industrial corner of the Vatican.

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