-- Traveling in the pope's bubble is rather like being on a school trip. Timings are strictly enforced. Journalists are scolded for not appearing at the right time, or not standing in the right place. Everyone needs to look smart, which on this trip translates to jackets and ties in Myanmar's 90-degree heat.
The plane itself is a chartered Al Italia jet. Vatican coats of arms on the seat backs and gold-lettered menus give it a touch of something special, but the real treat is when the pope makes his rounds in the cramped economy cabin, shaking each journalist's hand. A glimpse of his immediately recognizable white robe in the aisle sends a hush through the seats.
When it was my turn to greet the pontiff, I had promised myself I would mention my late grandmother to him. Every day of her 96 years, she said the Hail Mary and found reasons to pray to just about every saint in aid of her only grandson. She was truly the most devout Catholic I have ever met, at least until I met Francis.
So with my broken Italian, I leaned in toward the pope and told him what little faith I have comes from her and that she would be very happy -- molto contenta! -- to know I was meeting him. He, too, often talks about his grandmother’s faith. At the mention of my own grandmother, his face broke into his well-known cheeky grin, and he squeezed my hand before giving me a thumbs up.
This is a country slowly emerging from years of military dictatorship, and wherever we go, crowds gather waving the Vatican flag. Many here seem to be happy that a major figure like the pope is a guest in their country. From the windows of our bus, we see people waving from cars, hanging off the backs of trucks and pausing to watch him pass on the sidewalks. This visit -- the first by any pope to Myanmar -- feels truly historic.
Meanwhile, timetables, speeches and other logistical announcements in Italian flood our inboxes. My clearly bemused expression has attracted the sympathetic glance of more than one Burmese resident, who have all been incredibly warm and welcoming to both the pope and the press.
From here, he will travel to Bangladesh to meet with some of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled the violence.
But as the pope navigates these issues and this country, the overwhelming response from viewers and readers seems to be positive. "I'm not really into religion, but I dig this pope,” read one comment, and there have been plenty of others.
Traveling with Francis gives you the sense that you are not just traveling with the leader of the Catholic community, but with someone who wants to be a world leader in the truest sense of the term.