At the end of each of the Pope's foreign trips, on the return flight, any journalist who has followed him throughout receives small gifts from the Pope.
On Monday, September 4, after five intense days of work, the 66 journalists who had followed Francis throughout his stay in Ulaanbaatar boarded the plane. They took their seats, as usual, in the last rows of the A330. The Vatican news bureau then gave them the famous “gifts.”
These take the form of bronze medals embossed with the Pope’s coat of arms on the front, and with a design on the reverse that is made to represent the spirit of the country or countries visited.
For the Mongolian trip, it includes the Ulaanbaatar cathedral shaped like a “ger,” the traditional yurt; the sacred Altai mountains; the country’s animals (a horse, a camel, a cow, a goat and a sheep); a Buddhist monastery; and a traditional musical instrument.
Souvenir, treasure, collector’s item …
For some journalists, it’s a collector’s item they conserve like a treasure in a small chest of drawers or on a shelf. “They’re beautiful objects. I keep them in a cabinet and look at them from time to time. It reminds me of the good times on my travels,” a French colleague tells me. “I put them on a prominent shelf to show off,” says an American.
“I had some stolen during a burglary, so I went online to buy some more,” admits a colleague who traveled under John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. Proof that, even if no one on board admits it, some recipients end up reselling them.
Another colleague on the other side of the Atlantic, one of the most experienced, explains that he is holding on to the more than 70 medals he has received. He stores each in a plastic pouch with all the other items from the trip. He has given one or two, including one from a trip to Egypt, to a friend from that country. However, he’s not sure what he plans to do with them otherwise.
“After I die, my daughter will get them,” he suddenly realizes. An Italian woman puts them in a safe: “They’re gathering dust,” she admits.
The Pope’s second gift is an envelope postmarked from Ulaanbaatar with a stamp depicting the Pope. One of the Vatican experts tells me that his philatelist friend is delighted with it. Some are already thinking in terms of profit. “I have no idea what it’s worth, so I’m putting it in a box with all these objects I don’t know what to do with, a big box that I’ll sell later.”
“I don’t know what it’s for, but it’s nice,” says a Spanish correspondent.
A papal rosary
Finally, there’s a small colored leatherette pouch embossed with the papal coat of arms, with a rosary also bearing the pope’s coat of arms, and two small photos of Francis. These gifts are almost always given by journalists to friends “for whom it really matters,” or to elderly or sick relatives.