VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Benedict slipped out of the Vatican unannounced for the first time in his papacy on Saturday, travelling to the same spot his predecessor did exactly 27 years ago to pray after being elected.
The Pontiff visited the shrine to the Virgin Mary at Mentorella, in the mountains about 55 km (34 miles) northeast of Vatican City, where Pope John Paul II went on Oct. 29, 1978.
John Paul had said that travelling to Mentorella, in what was the first the many pilgrimages outside Rome of his pontificate, had helped him to pray.
John Paul’s trip, however, was an official visit that drew thousands of pilgrims. There were only dozens present for Benedict’s surprise visit.
The Vatican did not offer many details, saying only that the German Pope had made a "private pilgrimage" to Mentorella and celebrated a mass in honour of the Madonna. The statement was released only after he returned to the Vatican.
"Nobody expected him to come. It was completely spontaneous," said a man answering the telephone at Mentorella, who described himself as a "pilgrim" and declined to be named.
The funniest thing about this story was the headline
Pope slips out of the Vatican for sneak trip. It makes it sound like the Pope had to give the Swiss Guard the slip to escape the Vatican. It must have been pretty cool for the people at the shrine to see the Pope there in an unannounced trip.