After his brief discourse to reporters on war, peace and migrants at an altitude of 30,000 feet, Pope Francis then came back in the plane to meet each one individually. By now he knows many of the reporters to some extent, and speaking with him at a personal level is a rich and frequently an emotional experience. The individual reporters feel recognized and affirmed, and treasure the moment as he listens, smiles, cracks a joke, responds to questions and does all this in an informal, relaxed way. There is no sense of hurry; he gives us the time we need.
A few asked to take selfies with him, including Antoine Marie Izoard for the French I.Media. “Everyone else is doing it, so I thought I would ask him to do so too,” he told us afterwards, as if to justify his request.
Some radio journalists like Nelson Castro from Argentina’s Radio Continental asked Francis to greet their listeners, while others like Jean-Louis De La Vaissiere de Laverne who works for AFP, gave him their latest book. His text bore the title, Le pape François, un combat pour la joie (Ed. La Passeur), which roughly translated means “a fight for joy.”
Andres Beltramo Alvarez , who writes for Mexico’s Notimex news agency pulled out his iPhone and played a song and greeting that his young children had recorded for the pope. Earlier, Celso Moro Tagle, the correspondent for Telemundo, the Spanish language television network that has a large audience in the U.S and Latin America, caused a stir when he presented Francis with the golden statuette of the Emmy Award that his network won last year for its excellent reporting on the 2013 conclave.
My wife, Elisabetta Piqué, correspondent for La Nación, a leading Argentine daily and author of the prize-winning biography Pope Francis: Life and Revolution (Loyola Press) that has inspired a film (“Francisco, Padre Jorge”), gave him a gift that he likes: a box of vauquitas (Argentine toffee-like sweets). Several people gave him letters, some asking for prayers for sick friends or family members, others asked him to bless photos of loved ones.
Maria Antonieta Collins, a Mexican journalist, now working in Miami for the Univision television network, gave the pope a box, tied with blue ribbons, containing: 42 empanadas—an Argentine meat pie speciality, made especially for him by some people from his homeland living in Florida. Smiling, he asked the stewards to heat the empanadas and share them with the reporters on the plane. They were delicious!
Pope Francis was gracious and smiling throughout, as some embraced him or shook his hand, and a few kissed him. He spent more than 30 minutes with us, and then bade us farewell until the next encounter, which is likely to be another airborne press conference on the flight from Santiago de Cuba to Washington, D.C., on the afternoon of Sept. 22. He knows how to feed the beast!