The Common Good

Pope Watch: Part 2

Sometimes I wish I could channel Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan. Then I'd be able to tell you why the pope was wearing bright red leather shoes.

I stood in the press corps balcony watching the popemobile flanked by black Escalades approach the John Paul II Cultural Center for Benedict XVI's interreligious meeting with faith leaders. He entered the brightly lit atrium to the subdued applause of the 200-member audience. As he stepped onto the riser to sit in the Papal Chair, there was a flash of red-like a cardinal darting from tree to tree over fresh snow.

I'm a cradle Catholic, but somehow I missed the fact that some popes wear flashy red traveling shoes. Perhaps I missed it because John Paul II-who was pope for 27 years-opted to break tradition and wore brown loafers as his "outside" shoes. But Benedict is a bit of a fashion plate and has returned to a papal tradition that some say dates back to the time of Roman emperors. Traditionally, they are made of Moroccan leather. They've been out of fashion for a while, but Benedict is bringing them back in. I mean, really, the man has so few ways he can accessorize!

In the case of the meeting with interreligious leaders, he also had to do something to compete with the compelling presence of Jordan's Queen Noor in her white silk caftan and diamond drop pendant. (It's good to know you can be one of the world's leading voices for banning landmines and still dress to kill.) The shoes the pope sported at the JPII Cultural Center were apparently made by his personal cobbler and are the "traveling shoes" that he will be buried in. I wouldn't recommend them for walking on water or fishing in, but they do draw a crowd.

Rose Marie Berger, a Sojourners associate editor, is a Catholic peace activist and poet.

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