In a chance event outside the Vatican this week, a college student from Minnesota walked away with a gift from the pope himself.
The Boston Globe reports 20-year-old Katie Rich from Minnetonka, a philosophy major at Boston College, is currently studying in Rome.
On Wednesday, Rich and her classmate, Ethan Mack from Maine, waited along the Vatican barricades holding a white skullcap – also called a zucchetto – with a note inside that read "Boston College loves our Jesuit Pope."
As the popemobile passed by the crowd, Rich and Mack yelled out "Papa!" which prompted Pope Francis to ask his driver to stop, the newspaper reports.
The two extended the hat, which the guard retrieved and gave it to the pope. After making sure it was the right size, Francis handed his own zucchetto to the guard who then carried it to the students.
"The best part of the whole encounter was just seeing Pope Francis smile at us,” Rich told the newspaper. “He radiates joy in a way unlike anyone else.”
The Boston Globe says exchanges like this one have become an increasingly regular practice under Francis, who was named Time Magazine's Person of the Year this week. The magazine says "posing for selfies with young visitors to the Vatican" is also not uncommon behavior.
"There really aren't words to describe this feeling," Rich said on her Facebook page.
For Rich and Mack, the experience is more valuable than the zucchetto itself. The two don't plan on keeping the sacred momento.
"We are definitely giving it to someone, just haven't settled on who yet!" Rich commented.