VATICAN CITY — With eagle eyesight, Pope Francis spotted him in a crowd of 50,000 people. Or maybe he first recognized the voice — one of dozens screaming “Santo Padre!” “Holy Father!”
Today at his first Wednesday general audience of the new year, Pope Francis plucked a fellow Argentine out of the throng and gave him the ride of his life.
Father Fabian Baez is a parish priest at the Our Lady of the Pillar church in the pope’s former Archdiocese of Buenos Aires.
He told La Nacion that he shouted “Santo Padre” to get the pope’s attention.
The pope saw the priest, made his driver stop the popemobile and gestured to him to come see him. They waited until the priest could make it past the people in front of him, the large wooden barricade and security.
As you can see in the video, the two hugged warmly, the pope asked if he were by himself and when he said, “Yes,” told him, “Come! Get on!” and take a seat next to the papal assistant.
As the priest clambers on, the pope rightly tells him: “The picture will go around the world.”
After we asked the Vatican press hall to find out who the then-mystery hitchhiker was, they got back to us not just his name, but that the pope also told his aides that the priest is “a great confessor.”
Father Baez got to ride the whole long way around the square with the pope and then was given special seating at the start of the audience. The two even got to chat briefly at the end of the audience before the pope returned to his residence.
The priest summed up the day best on his Twitter feed:
“I’m going to change my biography. ‘The poor priest who got on the popemobile today with #PopeFrancis’”