Students swap zucchettos during close encounters with pope

Students studying in Rome have opportunities to attend papal audiences or Masses, and some are blessed with once-in-a-lifetime experiences with the Holy Father. Here are stories of two students who swapped zucchettos with Pope Francis.

‘A hat for you!’

Bradley Torline, 22, of Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, swapped zucchettos with Pope Francis, and when he returned home, he gave the papal skullcap to his friend, an 80-year-old nun who prays for him unceasingly.

Torline Courtesy photo

“To me, the real gift that I will remember and cherish as long as I live was the moment of encounter with Pope Francis,” he said. “We stood face to face, not even 6 feet away from one another. That was the real gift.”

It was his last papal audience at the end of the fall 2014 semester in Rome. Torline had purchased a zucchetto at the official papal tailor shop and was in the front row waving it when the popemobile approached. He shouted, “Papa! Una Zucchetto per Lei!” meaning, “I have a hat for you.”

“He made eye contact with me and smiled, but they passed by,” Torline said.

When nothing happened in the second pass, he prayed for one more chance. On the last run, the car stopped and Pope Francis reached for the zucchetto in Torline’s hand and gave him the one on his head. Torline jumped with joy, and with tears in his eyes, said “Grazie, Papa, Grazie, grazie mille!”

“I was so overcome that I almost forgot the most important part,” Torline said. “I yelled, ‘Papa, Prega per la mia mama, per favore,’ which means, ‘Papa, pray for my mom, please.’ He nodded solemnly at me, and I knew for certain that he would.”

‘With help from Mary’

Andrew Meyer, 20, of University of Mary in Bismark, North Dakota, arrived early at the Paul VI Auditorium in the Vatican on Jan. 21 and moved to the front where he hoped that he would be able to reach out to Pope Francis.

“I had to stand there for a couple of hours before the audience started, and I was so nervous,” he said. “When Pope Francis came by, I extended my hand from behind a row of people, and he saw it. He took off his zucchetto, put mine on his head to see if it was the right size, and needless to say, that was a nail-biting moment for me. But thank the Lord, it was the right size.”

The pope smiled, handed his own cap to the student and moved on. The crowd was noisy like a rock concert, Meyer said, and he was shaking with excitement as people nearby took selfies with the young man who now had the pope’s white cap.

“With a little help from Mary and the saints, I succeeded,” he said.

He got the idea before he left for Rome and purchased the zucchetto in a liturgical shop right before the papal audience.

The zucchetto, he said, will eventually end up in a case at St. John’s Church in his hometown of Wahpeton, North Dakota, where pastor Father Dale Lagodinski has been an inspiration and support for Meyer.

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

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