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New pope blesses guide dog

Tuesday March 19th, 2013

By DogTime Staff

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Asià, a Labrador Retriever, is a guide dog for Alessandro Forlani, a visually impaired journalist. (Photo credit: Discovery News)

The whole world was abuzz last week when Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope. When the white smoke billowed out of the Vatican smokestack, Bergoglio became the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church — the first South American and the first Jesuit Pope to lead the church. He is also the first Pope to choose the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, a monk known for his kindness to animals.

Pope Francis I certainly lived up to his namesake’s reputation as the patron saint of animals Saturday afternoon when he met Italian journalist Alessandro Forlani and his guide dog, yellow Labrador Retriever, Asià.

Forlani, a radio journalist for Italian RAI radio, is visually impaired, and Asià accompanies him everywhere he goes — including the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall, where Forlani was to cover one of Pope Francis’s first addresses to the press.

The only problem — would Forlani be able to bring Asià inside with him? The Vatican has a policy not to admit guests of the four-legged variety.

“As I waited in line to enter the hall, the security guards told me that most likely I wouldn’t be allowed to get in with the dog,” Forlani writes in a post on his Facebook page. Forlani was prepared for disappointment, but Vatican officials soon approached the radio journalist and ushered him inside, Asià walking beside him.

“But after a few minutes, Vatican officials gave me the green light and I was accompanied by a Swiss guard to the audience hall,” he says. “They let me sit near the first row of seats.”

Forlani sat and listened to Pope Francis’s rousing speech. When the pontiff finished, the journalists lined up to greet the new Pope. Many performed the traditional “baciamano,” kissing the Pope’s ring.

Vatican officials walked up to Forlani and Asià with a special message from Pope Francis himself.

“They said that Pope Francis had asked to meet me,” Forlani explains. “He had seen Asià and wanted to see both of us.”

Forlani was thrilled. Following Asià’s lead, he made his way onto the stage to greet the new Pope. When Pope Francis walked up to greet the excited journalist, the pontiff made clear he was also happy to meet Asià, Forlani’s loyal guide dog and friend.

Asià sniffed Pope Francis’s white robe and black dress shoes, then politely waited at Forlani’s side. Shaking the Pope’s hand, Forlani first asked for a blessing for his wife and daughter, to which the pontiff gladly assented. But what Pope Francis said next truly delighted Forlani.

“He said, ‘and a special blessing for [your] dog, too,” Forlani remembers. Pope Francis lovingly patted Asià on the head. “He broke the ceremonial rules as my presence on stage with Asià wasn’t previously arranged,” the Italian journalist said of the Pope’s gesture towards his dog.

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