LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy (Reuters) - Pope John Paul used to climb every mountain, ford every stream and take afternoon naps in a small, white tent. Pope Benedict reads, writes, takes naps indoors and plays Mozart on a baby grand piano.
On holidays, it’s different strokes for different popes.
Pope Benedict is wrapping up three weeks of a private mountain holiday in the same isolated church-owned house where 20 years ago his predecessor broke with centuries of tradition by taking a vacation outside papal residences.
This storybook area of jagged peaks, whispering pines and gurgling streams that set apart hamlets graced by tall church steeples has dubbed itself “The Vacation Place of Popes”.
When Pope John Paul began coming to this northern Dolomite area near the Austrian border in 1987, he was 67. Benedict, who was elected in 2005, is now 80.
John Paul, an avid mountain climber and hiker even before his election to the papacy in 1978, would often spend entire days miles from the mountain residence.
His security detail would deftly deflect the media, blocking roads as the papal party sped off to a different secret location each day to be used as a base for exploration of trails, plateaus and abandoned villages at high altitude.
He shed his white cassock, donned hiking boots and took off.
Reporters often did not know where John Paul had gone for the day until he returned, often just before sunset. Much younger security men would recount how they were left breathless.
Benedict, by contrast, seems to enjoy much more cerebral — and regimented — holidays.
“This is a vacation with few public appearances, a vacation that is a bit monastic, Benedictine,” the German Pope’s private secretary, Monsignor Georg Ganswein, told the Italian newspaper Il Giornale.
And by “Benedictine” he did not mean his boss but the order of monks founded by St. Benedict in the 5th century and whose guiding principle is “Ora et Labora” (Pray and Work).
Benedict, a theologian and former professor, did much of both during his vacation.
Ganswein characterized the Pope’s routine as “a day that is well structured” — early morning Mass, prayer and meditation, breakfast followed by reading, writing and more meditation.
He has lunch in the house at 1 p.m. and after rest and a brief walk in its park his afternoon is a repeat of the morning except for playing on a baby grand piano and listening to a few CDs of classical music.
“The Pope has brought along sheet music of various composers: Mozart, Chopin, Schubert and others,” Ganswein told Il Giornale. “It’s not a pontifical secret that the Pope has a predilection for Mozart.”
Only in the early evening, at about 6 p.m., does the tiny papal entourage leave the mountaintop compound — venturing only a few miles to a nearby lake or mountain chapel.
The party stays out for only 90 minutes, compared with the excursions of up to 12 hours enjoyed by John Paul.
Upon the motorcade’s return, several dozen Lorenzago residents and tourists, most of them elderly, gather along the sleepy town’s only main street.
Benedict, sitting in the front seat next to the driver, rolls down his window and his car moves slowly up the mountain road, leaving Lorenzago in the rear view mirror.
It’s dinner time and the end of another “well structured” vacation day in the life of the Pope.