The Scoop on Obama’s Gift to Pope Tomorrow

By William Wan What do you get for a man who already possesses leadership over one-sixth of the world’s population … Continued

By William Wan

What do you get for a man who already possesses leadership over one-sixth of the world’s population not to mention the highest earthly authority in the church?

When President Obama’s staff went searching for the perfect gift for Pope Benedict XVI, they called Louis DiCocco, owner of a religious gift shop in Philadelphia, for advice.

“Someone there remembered us from the Pope’s last visit,” DiCocco said in a phone interview today. He and his shop had design and built a chair used by the pope during his meeting with U.S. bishops in Washington last year.

For five days, DiCocco and the state department officials went back and forth, trying to strike the right balance of history, significance and sentiment. A lot was at stake. Not just American-Vatican relations (the perfect gift just might be the thing to spark a warm discussion), but also in the balance was Obama’s reputation as a decent gift giver (re: critics’ howls when Obama gave Queen Elizabeth that iPod).

At first, DiCocco suggested an antique chalice his family had in their shop that could be traced back to the 1920s — a parish priest style gold-plated cup with a highly engraved base. Written around the mouth of the chalice were the words, “Sanctus, Sanctus, Santus,” meaning “holy, holy, holy.”

The cup had history and character but they kept looking.

DiCocco reached out to friends and contacts in the American Catholic community. Some of them at the Redemptorist order mentioned a sacred relic from the saint, John Neumann, in their possession.

The Redemptorists, an order of Catholic priests and brothers that originated in 1732 at Naples, traced their roots in the U.S. to 1842, when Neumann became the first Redemptorist to profess vows in America. Neumann, helped build up the U.S. Catholic school and parish system and ministered especially to German immigrants in Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

The Redemptorist order had a stole that had been draped on top of his remains at a Philadelphia shrine to Neumann, who was declared a saint in 1977. The stole, a long scarf-like garment that is worn around a priest’s neck, had lain with Neumann’s body for 18 years until it was removed in 2007.

When DiCocco suggested the stole to the state department, “it was just kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “It was just the right touch of American Catholic history and relevance. I mean, here was this saint, an immigrant who came to America and did so much beautiful work.”

Not trusting the stole to others, DiCocco personally picked it up, drove it to Washington and hand-delivered it last week to government officials.

The White House has declined to confirm the gift or discuss it before the tomorrow’s meeting between Obama and Benedict. The Redemptorist order, however, said in a statement today that it was “a delight” to be able to give something to the Holy Father.

“We’re giving the gift because it was asked for by our government to be given to the pope, and it’s an honor,” said Al Bradley, an official with the order.

As for DiCocco and his family, he said they’re ecstatic to have been able to serve their country and their pope, not just once with the chair last year, but now twice.

“We’re humbled by it all,” he said. “And just know there’s going to be a piece of American history in the Vatican – not just American, but Philadelphia history – it’s just a great feeling.”

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  • withouthavingseen

    GrannyAnnie,I like your name, by the way. It’s clever.Let’s try not to be too self-righteous though. I remember about 8 years of “the left” howling, don’t you? Maybe we Americans are all a bunch of howlers.I howled over the President’s lowbrow gifts to the highest ranking members of society in a country that is probably our closest ally. In addition to the Queen, don’t forget Mr. and Mrs. Brown, no favorites of mine, but still deserving respect for the sake of their office, and more than a bunch of DVDs.As for this conservativish Catholic, I think the gift is an excellent choice all around. So let me rave, for a minute, rather than howl ;-)The stole is a piece of Americana associated with the Holy Father’s German ancestry and our history. It is classy and elegant, yet also very practical (as far as churchy gifts go – the Holy Father can even use it if he likes), and practicality is very American. The way the gift was selected and procured, even – through teamwork at a grassroots level – is also very American.It will make me proud of our President’s conduct.

  • blert

    Sorry, GrannyAnnie, but I don’t hear anyone howling. Maybe atheists will, but I doubt even that.State gifts need a unique quality along with history and significance. An iPod, no matter what music is on it, doesn’t cut it. Neither does a boxed set of American movies that only work on North American DVD players. (Gordon Brown’s reciprocal gift for the movies, by the way, was a nice pen holder carved from the wood of an anti-slave ship.)Finally someone in the White House figured out that these gifts do matter, or at least they matter when one screws them up, and that it’s not to be something picked up from Walmart or Amazon. This gift is uniquely American and full of significance. Obama finally did something right in the gift-giving department.

  • GrannyAnnie

    I’m quite certain that the right will howl, no matter what our president gives anybody as a gift. They are just howlers, they can’t help it!

  • shantesmom

    It sounds like the perfect gift. Who wouldn’t be pleased to receive such a relevant gift. Let’s see what our nay sayers have to say about this. They sure had a good time over the Queen’s gift.

  • dantefigueroa

    God bless you Mr. DiCocco!

  • Spartann

    Hey Grannie Annie …Get a grip will ya…Quit being such a biyatch and learn how to capitulate when the time is right…. Finally the Prez’s Personal Shopper thought 1st about a gift worthy of the recipient and the image it reflects of Our Country …. Its great the White House Gift Shoppe is no longer the last stop before hoppin a flight over seas ….. Americans can show up to a party with heads held high…. Thank God , Rahm Emanuel is delegated once again to ONLY selecting the “dead fish” ……..

  • QuoVadisAnima

    I disagree with our current president on almost everything and am praying that he is a one termer, BUT this was still very well done & I heartily approve…

  • Bernard0

    The bones of St. John Neumann, dressed in priestly attire and enshrined in a glass altar at St. Peter Church in Philadelphia for visitors to see, miraculously exude a holy oil which permeates the clothing in which he is vested, and anyone with devotion to his memory will testify this oil is the sweat of a beloved American Saint who as in life by his service to others for the good of the nation, now from heaven tirelessly works miracles in the lives of whomever asks. This stole is a uniquely rare and precious, historic and appropriate gift from the American people to the Pontiff, and one to be proud of as President Obama has honored not only the immigrant Saint and the Pope, but also American citizens by the thoughtfulness given to its selection. Thank you Mr. President! Very well done!