Pope Francis and University of Mary student exchange zucchettos

by University of Mary


University of Mary Rome Campus student Chris Riedman swaps hats, or zucchettos, with a smiling Pope Francis on March 29 in Rome (submitted photo)

Good teachers are always looking for teachable moments for their students. So, it is safe to say, University of Mary student and religious-education-teacher-to-be Chris Riedman’s recent encounter with Pope Francis is one of many precious experiences that he’ll share with his future students.

Riedman and his University of Mary Rome Campus classmates were at the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican early on March 29. In this hall, the pope is able to greet the pilgrims in person instead of just waving to people from his Popemobile. Riedman found a seat near the aisle where Pope Francis would be walking, hoping to exchange zucchettos with the pontiff.

“It worked out that I was standing next to a baby, which worked in my favor because the Holy Father always stops to give his blessing and a kiss to babies,” recalled Riedman, a Bismarck, native studying at University of Mary’s Rome campus while double majoring in philosophy and Catholic studies. “As Pope Francis approached me, I held my hand out holding my zucchetto. He immediately saw it and a grin crossed his face—of course, when is the pope not smiling? We exchanged glances and he then took the zucchetto, sized it up, and placed it on his head.”

To his amazement, Riedman had just pulled off the exchange that he had been planning for years. His research about zucchetto trades made popular by Pope St. John Paul II, what he learned about the Church, its traditions and legacies of the popes, had finally come true.

“After the exchange, I had the opportunity to shake his hand,” said Riedman. “I was so struck I couldn’t speak, but if I could, I would have thanked him immensely for not just the gift he had given me, but for the impact he continually makes on my life.”