ROME (AP) — Pope Francis slipped out of the Vatican Thursday for a personal errand: New glasses.
Francis arrived at dusk at the Ottica Spiezia on swank Via del Babuino in his Ford Focus, accompanied by his bodyguard and some plainclothes police, witness Daniel Soehe said.
Shop owner Alessandro Spiezia told The Associated Press he put new lenses in the pope's existing frames. He said he had made the pope new glasses last year, and that the pope had liked them so much that he asked him to fill a new prescription.
"I was supposed to go to the Vatican yesterday to bring them, but the pope told his secretary, 'No, I don't want Spiezia to come here, I'll go to Via del Babuino,'" a clearly emotional Spiezia said moments after the pope left with his new prescription filled.
The pope, who spent less than an hour in the tiny shop, was mobbed by an enormous crowd that had gathered outside, grabbing onto his arm as he got into the car for the quick trip back to the Vatican.
Francis has lamented that he can no longer come and go as he pleases: He famously rode public transport in Buenos Aires as archbishop, and has said one of the things he misses most now that he is pope is being able to go out for a pizza.
He does slip out occasionally, however, especially to visit the St. Mary Major basilica, usually on the eve of a foreign trip and upon his return home.
Soehe, a German tourist visiting Rome with his father, said he was stunned to see the pope in the shop, trying on the glasses, especially after he waited for four hours earlier in the day, in vain, to climb to the top of St. Peter's Basilica.
"There were too many people, and also the president of Israel was visiting and there were so many police officers, so it was too much for us and we went back to the hotel," Soehe told AP.
"I told my father, 'Hey, that was better than going to St. Peter's dome: Seeing the pope in a shop trying on new glasses.'"
When Francis isn't using his glasses, he keeps them tucked into his pants pocket, unlike Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI who always handed his eyeglasses off to an aide when he didn't need them.
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AP photographer Alessandra Tarantino contributed to this report.