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One of the earliest fake news stories of Pope Francis’s pontificate was that he left the Vatican at night to help the homeless of Rome who live under the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square, a rumor that stemmed from a joke made by someone close to the pontiff.
Although Francis has never donned a disguise to sneak out of the Vatican; but he has, however, left in a handful of occasions for mundane reasons: Buying new glasses or buying new shoes, for example.
On Tuesday, the pope stepped out of the Vatican to congratulate the owners of a small record shop for their recently concluded renovations.
Though no official communication was released by the Vatican, Spanish journalist Javier Martinez Brocal, of the news agency Rome Reports, was an unexpected eye witness, as he was passing by when he noticed the commotion, and a white Fiat 500 with the plates of Vatican City State.
The owners of the store told the well-seasoned reporter that long before he was elected pope on March 13, 2013, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio used to be a regular visitor to “Stereosound,” a small record store near the Pantheon.
The owners actually bickered in front of the journalist, he told Crux, because they couldn’t remember if he was in fact, a cardinal or an archbishop when he first walked through the doors, generating a lot less interest from tourists and locals alike.
Francis, known for loving music, particularly Argentine tango, didn’t buy anything during Monday’s visit, that happened around 8pm local time. However, the owners refused to let him leave emptyhanded, and gave him a classical music CD.
“The pope was in the store for 12 minutes,” Martinez Brocal said. “I saw that he blessed a lady, the owner, her daughter and her son-in-law. He spoke with them, listened to them. The daughter pulled out a CD wrapped in blue before he left.”
In his own report of the events, Martinez Brocal writes that the owners of the store refused to speak with him at the beginning, but “slowly” shared some small details, such as the fact that he was an old customer, but hadn´t had the opportunity to go back since his election to the papacy.
When Bergoglio was elected pope by his brother cardinals, they went to the Vatican to offer their congratulations, and he had promised to visit the store again one day. And that visit came on a cold, rainy, January night.
Francis, who as archbishop of Buenos Aires used to travel the city on public transport, has left the Vatican for non-official events on a handful of occasions. After the havoc caused to Roman traffic with his first visit to buy new eyeglasses, the owner offered to go to him when those needed replacing. But according to the pope, these types of trips, even if unofficial, are still classified as work-related.
In a recent interview, he said he left the Vatican for purely personal reasons on only three occasions: To visit writer Edith Bruck, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp; to visit Mara, a 90-year old professor of the Sapienza University; and to offer his condolence to an Italian journalist friend following the death of his mother.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma