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Minnesota man leaves Rome with papal keepsake

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The pope gave another Minnesotan a memorable keepsake. For Pete Stauber, it capped off a life-changing pilgrimage to Rome.

Getting the opportunity to get close to the pope at the weekly general audience and ritual "popemobile" drive through the crowd is rare enough, but to have the chance to trade caps with the pontiff is even more astounding. Stauber got that chance, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

The Hermantown man exchanged zucchettos – a type of beanie or skullcap – with Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Feb. 26.

Before his trip, Stauber learned the key of exchanging caps with the pope – Pope Francis will only participate in the trade if it's an official pope cap that's his size, Rev. Richard Kunst from St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Duluth told the newspaper. Kunst has one of the largest collections of papal artifacts.

“I basically told them how to do it,” Kunst told the Duluth News Tribune. “Many try and don’t succeed.”

Stauber and his wife, Jodi, went to Gammarelli, the official pope outfitter, and purchased a zucchetto for around $83. The price was steep, but it turned out to be worth it.

In a group of 30,000 to 50,000 people, Stauber was standing in the right place at the right time. The popemobile stopped at Stauber, whose arm was stretched out, and a guard took his zuccehtto. Pope Francis checked it for size and authenticity, then removed the cap from his head and handed it off. The rare exchange was captured on official Vatican video – start watching at the 12 minute, 55 second mark.

Trading caps with the pope has become a modern custom, but it takes a lot of luck. Last December, a Minnetonka native studying abroad in Rome traded caps with the pope as he drove past. Last November, a University of Minnesota student got to participate in the special exchange.

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