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Surrounded by the beauty  of creation and history

· Benedict XVI's first greeting on arriving at Castel Gandolfo ·

On Wednesday, 7 July, the Holy Father left Rome to spend the hot summer months at the Papal Summer Residence in Castel Gandolfo. After arriving in the late afternoon the Pope appeared at the window overlooking the square, to speak and to impart his Blessing to the faithful. The following is a translation of excerpts from the coverage given to the event in “L’Osservatore Romano” Italian daily edition on Friday, 9 July.

“Dear friends”, the Pope said, “my holidays begin this evening and I am happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation and history and by your sympathy and friendship”. The Pope was speaking to the faithful at Castel Gandolfo shortly after his arrival in the little town of Lazio, where he will be spending the summer.

For the past 400 years Popes have moved to the Pontifical Villas in the Alban Hills for a period of rest during the summer. The first Pontiff to go there was Urban VIII. It was he who established the Papal Summer Residence at the Pontifical Villas in the Castelli Romani, [the Italian name for this locality in the hills near Rome], “so that the Pope will not need to spend his vacations in the homes of others”.

By going there on 5 May 2005, soon after his election to the Papal Throne, “Benedict XVI has continued the well-tested tradition”, Saverio Petrillo, Director of the Pontifical Villas, said at a recent interview with Vatican Radio.

“I remember that afternoon with great pleasure and great joy”, Petrillo recalled, for “the Pope instantly found this residence to his liking”.

This might also be why – having accepted all the previous invitations – this year Benedict XVI gave up spending his holiday period elsewhere and went directly to the Villas in Castel Gandolfo, where, Petrillo said, work had been done to make the Pope's stay even more comfortable.

The buildings do not contain artworks such as to attract the interest of art lovers. “Rather”, Petrillo confirmed, “they suggest the idea of restfulness. It is quite another matter if one is referring to transcendent art or to the miracle of nature, when adjectives describing the natural environment are transposed into the superlative.

“Green spaces dominate and the view is enchanting from all directions: from the side of the Tyrrhenian Sea, visible on the horizon, from the lakeside (of Lake Albano), ever lively and surging with movement; from the surrounding hillsides that slope down to the Villa and even from the view on to the town of Albano, with its characteristic little square, adorned with ancient shops that have lost none of their former fascination”.

Fr Waldemar, parish priest of San Tommaso, said that the locals always express fresh joy at meeting the Pope so that with the approach of summer, “many people ask me ‘when is the Pope coming?’. And they are not only our parishioners”.

Indeed Fr Waldemar is often stopped in the street and asked about the Pope's arrival, mainly by strangers, some of whom are from neighbouring villages. It is easier for them to come to Castel Gandolfo to see the Pope rather than Rome.

Mass times are changed, the parish priest added, to enable everyone to pray the Angelus with the Pope.

Moreover certain popular festive events have a special flavour. “The Peach Festival held on 25 July”, when a delegation of farmers presents a basket of the first and most beautiful peaches to the Pope, Fr Waldemar explained, “has always drawn many people”.

“Then the parishioners regard the Solemnity of the Assumption as an established appointment with the Pope and this year too he will be with us”, the parish priest said, “he confirmed this to me yesterday”.

Another popular event is the feast of St Sebastian, the town's Patron. “We celebrate the patronal feast on 1 September”, the priest continued. The high point is the Blessing that the Pope imparts to a delegation of the organizers”, as if he were personally imparting his Blessing to everyone.

After the welcome the people of Castel Gandolfo gave the Pope, they met with him again at the Angelus on Sunday, 11 July. In fact, the prayer of the Angelus on Sundays is the only public event on the Pope's calendar in July. As announced, all Audiences are suspended until the end of the month, including the General Audiences that will be resumed on 4 August.

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