As soon as he got on the bus just outside the Smith’s on 2100 South, I knew he was the new pope: Papa Francesco, formerly Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He wasn’t wearing the standard-issue cassock, skullcap or red shoes, but I recognized him immediately, even though I had only seen him on TV when he came out on the papal balcony to greet the multitude in St. Peter’s Square. In keeping with his humble, simple life, the Pope was attired in plaid Bermuda shorts, a T-shirt with “I (faded red heart) L.A.,” flip-flops and a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap.
What in the hell was he doing in Salt Lake City, on the No. 21 bus at two o’clock in the afternoon, heading east? It was almost as if my prayers were answered when he took the aisle seat right next to me.
“Beautiful day out there,” he said in perfect English, just faintly tinged with an Argentine accent, sort of like NBA star Manu Ginobili, who, like the new pope, hails from Buenos Aires. “Hope my groceries aren’t in your way.”
As he set the well-worn canvas sack on the floor (good for him, I thought, using his own grocery bag instead of paper or plastic), I caught a glimpse of an impressive ring on his right ring finger. It was unmistakable: the Ring of the Fisherman, depicting St. Peter enjoying some fish and chips.
“What brings you to town, Your Holiness?” I knew El Papa was a real fan of city buses all over the world, but I didn’t think Salt Lake City would be one of his first stops in his papal travels.
“Please, please. I’m very uncomfortable with all the holy flapdoodle, which would make Jesus spin in His grave to see, if He was still in a grave. All my friends just call me Papa Jorge,” he said, his kindly face and twinkly eyes radiating warmth.
“To answer your inquiry, my visit to Salt Lake City has two purposes: One, to reach out to my brothers in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; second, to scout possible locations for my new pizza franchise, Papa Francisco’s. These other Papas in town, Murphy and John, were never even priests, let alone cardinals or popes.”
“No entiendo. I don’t understand use of luck here. Luck, by what do you mean luck?”
“Success with the Mormons, or with pizza locations.”
“I like your Prophet. Looks like a cardinal. Don’t know how much he knows his Bible, but he sure tells knee-slapping stories about fishing trips, which he started in on when he saw my fisherman ring. Regards pizza, just heading up to the new development in your Sugar Home neighborhood.”
I had read that the pope cooked his own meals, so I asked him if he had a special recipe for pizza.
“Usually don’t have a lot of time to cook complicated foods, so I often just open a can of chili, or grill a cheese & bacon sandwich, always on whole wheat. My pizza recipes come from mi madre and add a Spanish flair to your basic Italian ingredients. Mucho asado, for examples, or mollejas, which are brains, which we say are good for your brains. I am obliged to say, was not hugely impressed with pizza in L.A., though it is really my kind of town.”
“Are you going to L.A. after Salt Lake?”
“Just been there. Met with some fast-talking gents who produce the Kardashian show and want me to do a reality called El Papa! At Home With Jorge. Kind of catchy, but I’m not so sure it will fly. Told them I kinda liked my title—Two, Four, Six, Eight, Time to Transubstantiate, which was based on my all-time favorite comedy album by Tom Lehrer. I also suggested Ave Maria, Gee It’s Good to See Ya, but they didn’t get it.
“Told them my reality would be likely a snoozefest, what with me opening up a box of cereal, or ironing my cassock or reading the Bible or L’Osservatore Romano or just praying at all hours of the day and night. They said I didn’t understand reality, and anyway, they would jazz everything up with guest appearances on Modern Family—Sophie Vergara, va-va-voom.
“Well, this is my stop. It’s been real.” The pope, or Papa Jorge, as he prefers, gathered up his groceries. As he exited, he turned and gave a jaunty wave. Or was it a papal blessing?
D.P. Sorensen writes a satire column for City Weekly.