Washington, July 11 (ANI): Barack Obama's staff called the owner of a religious gift shop in Philadelphia, Louis DiCocco, for advice as to what gift should be given to Pope Benedict XVI when the U.S. President meets him.
"Someone there remembered us from the Pope's last visit," the Washington Post quoted DiCocco as saying in a phone interview.
It may be significant to note that DiCocco's shop had designed and built the chair that was used by the pope when he met U.S. bishops in Washington last year.
And this time around, he and Obama's staff went back and forth for five days, trying to strike the right balance of history, significance, and sentiment.
The newspaper report suggests that not just American-Vatican relations were at stake, but also Obama's reputation as a decent gift giver.
DiCocco first suggested the state department officials that they select an antique chalice his family had in their shop, which could be traced back to the 1920s.
He told them that it was a parish priest style gold-plated cup with a highly engraved base, and that written around the mouth of the chalice were the words "Sanctus, Sanctus, Santus"-meaning "holy, holy, holy".
However, watching that the officials were still looking around for something better, DiCocco suggested that they could take a sacred relic from the saint John Neumann-a stole-in possession of the Redemptorist, an order of Catholic priests and brothers that originated in 1732 at Naples.
When DiCocco suggested the stole to the state department, "it was just kind of a no-brainer," he said.
"It was just the right touch of American Catholic history and relevance. I mean, here was this saint, an immigrant who came to America and did so much beautiful work," he said.
DiCocco personally picked it up, and hand-delivered it to government officials in Washington last week.
The White House has declined to confirm the gift or discuss it before the meeting between Obama and Benedict.
The Redemptorist order, however, has said in a statement that it was "a delight" to be able to give something to the Holy Father.
"We're giving the gift because it was asked for by our government to be given to the pope, and it's an honor," said Al Bradley, an official with the order.
DiCocco said that his family were ecstatic to have been able to serve their country and their pope, not just once with the chair last year, but now twice.
"We're humbled by it all. And just know there's going to be a piece of American history in the Vatican - not just American, but Philadelphia history - it's just a great feeling," he said. (ANI)