Pope Francis slipped out of the Vatican Thursday evening and had his driver take him to an optometrist near the busy Piazza del Popolo to swap out the lenses in his eyeglasses.
Someone mentioned to him that this was the first time a pope had done such a thing, to which Francis replied with a smile, “What’s the matter with that? Where do you go to have your glasses fixed if not the optometrist?”
Shoppers and tourists were clearly surprised to see the Pope out and about in central Rome, and many eagerly snapped pictures with their cellphones. Arriving by car around 7:00 p.m., the Pope entered the store alone, while outside, a knot of people immediately formed, waiting for him to come out.
The Pope was welcomed by the shop’s owner, Alessandro Spiezia, who afterward recounted that the Pope told him, “I don’t want a new frame, you just have to redo the lenses. I don’t want anything expensive.”
Although the Pope had brought a new prescription with him, since he had been having trouble seeing up close, the doctor insisted on giving him a new eye examination. Outside the shop’s windows, the crowd of people looked on, magnetized by the unprecedented scene.
After 40 minutes, in which the optometrist examined the Pope’s vision and prescribed multifocal lenses, the Pontiff emerged from the store and got into the waiting Ford Focus; the driver returned him to the Vatican.
Once the Pope had left, Spiezia told reporters, “In fifty years so many famous people have come through my store—Federico Fellini, Masina, Pietro Germi, Eduardo De Filippo, Soraya, Lucia Bose, and even Bill Clinton—but to receive the Holy Father is a thrill that gives me goosebumps.”
The optometrist is scheduled to take the new lenses to the Vatican next week. “I would like to bring them to him before his departure for Cuba and the United States,” Spiezia said.
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In an interview last May, the Pope said he still misses some simple things from his former life, like walking the streets of the city and going out for pizza.
“I really miss the peacefulness of walking out on the streets, or going to a pizzeria to eat a nice pizza,” he said.
When asked why he doesn’t just have pizza delivered, Francis said it just is not the same.
“It’s all about going there,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.