The Gentlemen's "Family Reunion"
Besides receiving Cardinal Re with another slate of episcopal appointments and the Reformed delegation (see below), Benedict XVI wanted to gather with and thank the Gentlemen of His Holiness for their work.
The "papal gentlemen," as they're often called, form the most-prestigious group of laypeople in the daily service of the Holy See. They're the successors of the Black Nobility, which served the Popes in all sorts of ceremonial tasks in the days of cultures which have now been surpassed. While their most prominent function of old was lifting Popes on the sedia gestatoria, their transport function is now only employed in those cases of the papal bier. The gentlemen are the exclusive pallbearers of the Popes.
The gentlemen come from around the world, but Italians predominate. They are recommended for the honor by their diocesan bishop, who invests them with the unique double-chain, worn with a tail-coat, black vest and white bow-tie.
Each gentleman, regardless of his place of residence, is expected to receive papal visitors and perform the other requisite functions in the pontifical household for at least two weeks a year.
Below is an exclusive English translation of the Pope's greeting.
It's a great pleasure for me to welcome you in a special audience this morning, and to greet you all with great warmth. This is a fitting occasion for us to get to know each other better and for me to make known to you my feelings of gratitude for the service you render to the Successor of Peter. I see you on ceremonial occasions and official receptions when I meet Heads of State, Prime Ministers, Ambassadors and other dignitaries. I'm deeply grateful to you for your assistance! But today, you're not escorting exalted political personalities, but your kind spouses as at a family reunion. I'm happy to welcome you, as well, and to greet you with fatherly affection.
Yours, dear Gentlemen, is an honored service which has entered into the secular tradition of the papal household. Of course, its appearance is much more simplified today, but while the functions and roles of the past are changed, the purpose of the work remains the same, that of serving the Successor of the Apostle Peter. We meet at the end of Christmas time, while the New Year moves past its first steps. In this time we've kept a constant watch toward the Savior who has come to earth. It is He, in the disarming simplicity of the Holy Night, who has brought us the richness of communion with his own divine life. This is the light never spent, the center of our existence, and we, like the shepherds of Bethlehem and the Magi who came from the East to adore him, after having paused in prayer in front of the crib, go forth from it to our own daily activities, carrying in our hearts the joy of having experienced that presence. Turning from this great Mystery, let us begin this New Year with serenity and trust, marked by the sign of the life-giving love of God.
In light of this, dear friends, I'm pleased to wish you all an enriching 2006. In the Church, each function is important when it is geared toward the realization of the Kingdom of God. To continue forward, the barque of Peter needs many hidden hands who, together with others who are more visible, contribute to its keeping a straightward course. Indispensible and never to be lost from sight is the common objective: dedication to Christ and to his saving work. I entrust you and your families to Mary, Mother of the Saviour, that she may accompany and sustain you at every moment of your lives, as I wish that you may ever more experience the joy of Christ's presence in your being. I grant you all my blessing, assuring you of a special place in my prayers.