After four months of intense preparation, the people of Lorenzago di Cadore are reportedly “in joyous ferment.” That’s because for almost three weeks this month, they are hosting a most important guest: Pope Benedict XVI.

The Pope is vacationing July 9-27 in this small mountain village of just 600 inhabitants, tucked away in the Dolomite region of northeast Italy. The region — the birthplace of Albino Luciani, who later became Pope John Paul I — was visited six times by Pope John Paul II, but this will be Benedict’s first trip there.

Nonetheless, the visit will be something of a homecoming. During the Vatican’s annual August break while he was cardinal, he would regularly take walking holidays in the nearby German-speaking Italian town of Brixen with his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger.

This year, after arriving by plane at the military airport of Istrana, the Pope will be flown by helicopter to Lorenzago, where he will stay in a recently renovated cottage normally used as a summer retreat for diocesan seminarians.

The property, surrounded by lush green meadows and dense woodland, is the responsibility of two dioceses: the Diocese of Treviso owns it, while it is located in the Diocese of Belluno-Feltre.

“We hope that the climate and the wonderful Dolomite scenery will offer the Holy Father the possibility to revive his energy,” Bishop Giuseppe Andrich of Belluno-Feltre said in a diocesan statement. He added that Bishop Bruno Mazzocato of Treviso has equipped the cottage with a grand piano for the ivory-tickling Pope.

Bishop Andrich’s diocese has coordinated with the local forestry commission to prepare papal hiking trails.

In an interview with Vatican Radio June 23, Bishop Mazzocato said that the “splendid woodland of conifers” would not only provide the Holy Father with the seclusion and security he requires, but also remind him of German forests.

Vacation Plans

Benedict will have a special vehicle at his disposal if he wants to explore the region’s famous rock formations. But unlike Pope John Paul II, he is not likely to make many such excursions. Benedict prefers to take short afternoon walks and spend the rest of the time studying, playing the piano or receiving just a few invited guests.

To date, he has only two public engagements planned: to pray the Angelus at midday on July 15 at the nearby Castle of Mirabello, and on July 22 at the main square of Lorenzago di Cadore. But the expectation is that he will also give an address to local seminarians, and visit a statue in honor of Pope John Paul I in his nearby birthplace of Forno di Canale.

During his previous papal vacations, Benedict occasionally took rare, unforeseen excursions. Once he even took a trip to Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain. He has also given impromptu and frank interviews to the press.

During his Angelus remarks at his summer residence of Castel Gandalfo on Aug. 13, 2006, the Pope commented about the purpose of vacations.

Along with affording an opportunity for leisure, relaxation, cultural activities and time with family, such periods also should incorporate a spiritual component, the Holy Father said.

“Having more free time, one can dedicate oneself more easily to conversation with God, meditation on sacred Scripture and reading some useful, formative book,” he said. “Those who experience this spiritual repose know how useful it is not to reduce vacations to mere relaxation and amusement.”

Added Benedict, “Faithful participation in the Sunday Eucharistic celebration helps one to feel a living part of the ecclesial community even when one is outside his or her own parish. Wherever we find ourselves, we always need to be nourished by the Eucharist.”

‘Rock of Peter’

The residents of Lorenzago have arranged an impressive series of events to coincide with Benedict’s visit. These include the inauguration of a parish organ, various concerts, torchlight processions, a seminar on the Shroud of Turin and a musical about John Paul II entitled “In Honor of Karol,” organized by pupils from a local school.

Speaking on Vatican Radio June 23, Bishop Andrich offered some advice to the community by recalling the words of Albino Luciani: Although “wonderful rocks” abound in the Dolomites, the future Pope John Paul I said, “it is the rock of Peter” to which the Christians of Lorenzago should strive to come near.

Lorenzago’s inhabitants appear to be heeding that advice.

Said Carlo Arrigoni, a citizen of Lorenzago, “They hope that, as with Pope John Paul II, they can build a particular relationship with Pope Benedict XVI that has much significance.”

Edward Pentin writes

from Rome.