Pope`s gondola ride kicks up unholy row
Rowing for the pope gives the highly competitive gondoliers huge publicity.
Venice: Pope Benedict XVI was rowed across Venice`s spectacular Grand Canal in a luxury gondola on Sunday, with his four "gondoliers" fighting off fierce competition for the honour.
The days leading up to the 84-year-old pope`s visit have been fraught ones for the gondolier community, with one rower even invoking a vision of Catholic saint Padre Pio in his bid for a coveted spot on the gondola.
"I`ve had enough. It`s a shame the pope can`t row the gondola himself, otherwise I would have given him an oar and he could have gone himself," Aldo Reato, head of the gondoliers, huffed earlier in local daily Il Gazzettino.
He eventually chose two rival pairs out of Venice`s 425 gondoliers to restore peace, rejecting the possibility of using the only woman gondolier.
Bruno and Francesco Dei Rossi are brothers whose father Albino rowed late pope John Paul II during his visit in 1985. The other pair, Gianpaolo D`Este and Igor Vignotto, are two famous participants in the Venice regattas.
"We`ve never had a protocol on who should be used on prestigious occasions like this one. Now is a good time to draw one up," Reato was quoted as saying.
Rowing for the pope gives the highly competitive gondoliers huge publicity in Venice and can be a source of pride for a family for generations.
"It`s been two days that I haven`t managed to sleep. It`s a huge responsibility," Bruno Dei Rossi told reporters ahead of the crossing.
Vignotto said: "This is very emotional. I went to confession yesterday."
The "Doganessa" gondola taken by the pope was traditionally for the "doges" -- the elected leaders of the Venice republic -- and like the one used by John Paul II. Paul VI also took a ride on a gondola during his visit in 1972.
The tradition of gondola-riding in the picturesque island city goes back to the Middle Ages and gondolas first appeared in paintings in the 15th century.