A retired Oklahoma City priest ran his finger along a zucchetto that has aged to a stately shade of cream.
The Rev. Marvin Leven, 88, said the memento — a pristine white skullcap worn by popes — was given to him by Pope Pius XII in the 1950s when Leven was young seminarian visiting Rome.
Tuesday, Leven's search for the papal favor was sparked by the televised inauguration Mass of Pope Francis in Vatican City. The new pope — formerly an Argentine cardinal, was elected to the papacy March 13. The first non-European pope in many centuries, Francis succeeds Pope Benedict XVI, who stunned the world by resigning.
Leven and Georganna Oberst, 87, said they each have memories of numerous popes — six in all — from Pope Pius XII whose papacy lasted from 1939-58 to Benedict, whose seven-year papacy began in 2005 and ended in February.
Oberst, also of Oklahoma City, said she was in nurse's training during World War II, and she realized after the war how much Pope Pius XII did to save Jews being persecuted by the Nazis, although she said some people have criticized him for not doing enough.
Then there was John XXIII, whose papacy was from 1958 to 1963, who started what became known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II. Leven said if he had to pick a favorite from among the men whose papacies intersected with his own life and ministerial career, it would be John XXIII “because he brought change.”
“He created changes in the church's liturgy and refreshed the openness of the church. People got to know the church better, and I think it was a good thing,” she said.
Leven said the papal leader elected after John XXIII death, Pope Paul VI, also sought to bring change to the Vatican by attempting to set up local bishops meetings for their input. The priest said Pope John Paul I, whose papacy began in 1978, was his favorite of all the pontiffs because “he was the pope with personality.”
“He was a man who not only loved being pope, but he showed it by smiling and showing his love for the people. I liked him because he was personable.”