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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 July 2006, 21:35 GMT 22:35 UK
The changing face of Papal trips
The BBC's Rome correspondent David Willey, who accompanied Pope Benedict XVI on his visit to Spain, reflects on how Papal travel has changed during the past three decades.

It's not like the Good Old Days when we roamed the world with John Paul II.

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Valencia
With no Vatican air force, the Pope has to resort to charter flights
Then, while we criss-crossed the world's oceans and continents the Pope often came back to chat with the 60 or so members of the Vatican's press corps crammed into the economy section of the papal charter plane.

Yes, the charter, for not only does the Pope have no divisions, as Stalin once famously remarked, but the Vatican has no Air Force One, and is forced to charter when its head of state travels.

There was however a Nato Awacs plane floating in the skies around Valencia keeping an electronic look-out for possible trouble while we were there, and we did have a couple of Spanish fighters escort our Alitalia charter Airbus as we flew into Spanish airspace.

Pope Benedict is a more formal, and a much older, man than his zestful predecessor Karol Wojtyla when he started his ambitious worldwide pilgrimages in the already distant days of the Cold War.


Benedict's foreign journeys are going to be fewer, more focused, shorter.

This one lasted all of 26 hours.

The white-clad Pope did appear briefly before take-off at the curtain dividing the business class seats occupied by his 20-person entourage from our section of the plane.

He made a short statement for the TV cameras which few reporters could actually hear.

The gist was that he wanted to give a positive spin to his Spanish visit.

His aim - to defend his teaching that true marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and that same-sex marriages are an aberration.

Joaquin Navarro, the Pope's official spokesman, did come back and talk to us.

He made it clear that the Pope was irked by the decision of the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, author of the Spanish law authorising same-sex unions, not to attend the set piece of his visit - Sunday mass for families in Valencia.

Keeping distance

This was to be the nearest that we were to get to the Pope during the entire visit.

David Willey with Pope John Paul II, May 2002
Pope John Paul II was the most travelled Pope in history
His meeting with Mr Zapatero, which we were later told was "very cordial", was declared off-limits.

Privileged access to the cardinals and bishops accompanying the Pope during his trip is practically non- existent these days.

In the early days of John Paul's world tours we used to stay in the same hotels as the papal entourage.

I frequently used to bump into the late Vatican secretary of state in the hotel lift.

No longer. Apartheid operates. The Vatican cardinals and bishops now always stay in separate lodgings well away from the inquisitive press, while the Pope himself normally stays at the local archbishop's house.

It helps to be an early riser if you want to follow a papal trip.

The pope's speeches for the day are released under embargo only during a brief 15 minute time window between 0600 and 0615.

If you oversleep, you will meet the unforgiving and impassive gaze of our chief Vatican minder and have to wait until the Pope speaks to know what he is going to say.

Fanfare and farewell

Spain has some sensationally beautiful and historic church buildings, but Pope Benedict made only the briefest of visits to the ancient cathedral in Valencia's city centre - which, incidentally, used to be a mosque when Spain was under Arab rule.

The open-air venue for his main speech and his Sunday mass was a brand new museum complex which appears to be modelled on the Sydney opera house.

Ancient cathedrals can no longer hold crowds of the size that the Pope wishes to attract when he travels.

It was already time to leave. The king and queen and their family waved goodbye. A military band played. The Pope graciously thanked his hosts.

Anti-terrorist police wearing sinister looking balaclavas and carrying automatic weapons followed our plane as we taxied along the runway.

A souvenir menu was passed around and a rather splendid lunch was served.

Even the Pope had to get back to Rome before the final of the World Cup began.

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