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VATICAN LETTER Jun-9-2006 (680 words) Backgrounder. With photos. xxxi

Six popes later, Vatican security chief turns in his jogging shoes

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Camillo Cibin holds the world record for miles jogged alongside a moving popemobile.

But he made his last run around St. Peter's Square May 31 and retired June 3, two days short of his 80th birthday.

Pope Benedict XVI accepted Cibin's resignation as director of security services and civil protection for Vatican City State and named 43-year-old Domenico Giani to succeed him.

In effect, the director is the Vatican's chief of police, but when the pope is in public view at home or abroad, he is the No. 1 papal bodyguard.

Cibin, a broad-shouldered, white-haired tower of strength, did not ease into retirement.

His farewell tour was accompanying Pope Benedict to Poland May 25-28, coordinating in advance with local security services, then walking or running at the pope's side in the midst of massive crowds. When the hordes broke through the security cordon after the pope's May 26 Mass in Warsaw, Cibin exhibited his well-honed skill of gently tossing interlopers aside like they were pieces of tissue.

Cibin also is master of a modified karate chop that prevents people from grabbing onto the pope or his vestments yet leaves no broken bones.

At the urging of his parish priest, Cibin and four other young men from his hometown applied and were accepted into the Vatican security services in 1947.

He was appointed director more than 40 years ago and was in charge of Vatican security during the Second Vatican Council and the conclaves that elected Popes John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict.

He is the only person to have been on all the papal flights for pastoral trips abroad, accompanying Pope Paul VI on nine trips, Pope John Paul on 104 trips and Pope Benedict to Germany in 2005 and Poland in 2006.

In what Vatican Radio described as "the day, hour and minute" of Cibin's worst nightmare, the commander also was alongside Pope John Paul's popemobile in St. Peter's Square May 13, 1981, when Mehmet Ali Agca shot the pope. While the director of the Italian police detail assigned to St. Peter's Square jumped into the popemobile, Cibin apprehended the Turkish gunman.

The Italian police officer, Francesco Pasanisi, has given interviews about his memories of that day, but Cibin has not. In fact, it appears Cibin has never given an interview, and he was turning down requests in the first days of his retirement as well.

In writing about Cibin's retirement, Avvenire -- the daily newspaper sponsored by the Italian bishops' conference -- spoke about his "absolutely impenetrable reserve."

"According to a quip that circulates in the Vatican, Cibin has never responded to a question, not even 'What time is it?'" the newspaper said, admitting that might be a slight exaggeration.

When Pope Benedict met June 3 with an estimated 350,000 members of lay movements and communities, he spent more than half an hour riding through the crowd in St. Peter's Square and down the long boulevard leading to the Tiber River. Six hours after being named chief of Vatican security, Giani was running next to the popemobile -- on the driver's side where Cibin had been a fixture for decades.

A native of Arezzo who is married and has two children, Giani brings a strong professional background and a history of Catholic volunteer work to his position as head of the 130-member Vatican force.

After earning a teaching degree, he entered the Italian finance police, then served on the security detail of the Italian prime minister. He came to the Vatican as Cibin's assistant in 1999.

While he has not given interviews, his photograph did make it into several Italian newspapers just before he was promoted: Standing downwind from the popemobile May 24, he got hit in the face with Pope Benedict's wind-borne zucchetto. Since he didn't duck, the photographers got a good shot.

And since he caught the white skullcap before it fell, he impressed people with his quick reflexes.


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