Cardinal Karol Wojtyła at ‘Bucci’ in Castel Gandolfo

Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks to Maria Bucci

On a beautiful autumn day I am in Castel Gandolfo, sitting on a terrace in a ‘Bucci’ restaurant. A magnificent view stretches from here to the Albanian lake situated lower, whose dark waters reflect the greenery of forests growing on its banks and fugitive clouds. Everything is dominated by a peak of the Monte Cavo covered with television relays – the highest mountain of Coli Albani. White houses of Rocco di Papa town are seen on its slope, and slightly below, among the forests, we can notice Palazzolo buildings - a summer premises of the Roman English College.
33 years ago – on 8 October 1978 – on that terrace, at the table 8, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was sitting. Bishop Andrzej Maria Deskur had brought the Archbishop of Cracow to Castel Gandolfo. It was a very intensive time for cardinal Wojtyła: he was taking part in a conclave at the end of August during which John Paul I was elected (on 30 August he met with the new pope during a private audience), on 3 September he took part in the Holy Mass inaugurating the pontificate of John Paul I, and then he flew back to Poland where he got into the whirl of everyday pastoral work. On 20 September, together with several Polish bishops and the Primate, he went to Germany – and visited a concentration camp in Dachau. A few days after his return from Germany (on the night of 28 to 29 September), the world received a tragic and unexpected news: after 33 days of his pontificate John Paul I died. It meant that cardinal Wojtyła would have to go to Vatican again to another conclave. On 3 October he went to Rome where he was spending days preceding the conclave intensively. On 8 October, on Sunday morning, cardinal Wojtyła concelebrated a Holy Mass in a Polish College and then he delivered a homily during the Holy Mass concelebrated by the Primate Wyszyński in the Church of St. Stanisław. On that day bishop Andrzej Maria Deskur decided to take cardinal Wojtyła, his cordial friend on a trip to Castel Gandolfo. The plan included visiting Pope’s gardens and dinner in ‘Bucci’ restaurant. In order to reminisce those relaxing moments of the Archbishop of Cracow, who was to be elected in the Holy See eight days later, I went to Castel Gandolfo to meet with the owner of the ‘Bucci’ restaurant.

WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: - What do you remember about the Sunday on 8 October 1978 when your restaurant was visited by a man became Pope soon?

MARIA BUCCI: - Looking from the perspective of time, 8 October 1978 was a very important day to me. At that time it did not come to my mind that a Polish bishop who was in my restaurant would become Pope, especially that I am used to customers wearing clerical collars, because in my restaurant there are often priests and bishops from Pope’s environment. Bishop Deskur and his guest sat on the terrace at the table 8. Cardinal Wojtyła ordered ‘fettucine all’amatriciana’ (‘fettucine’ is egg pasta in the shape of long and wide bands served with the famous Lacjum sauce ‘all’ amatriciana’: tomatoes, onion and diced smoked bacon, all of this covered with sprinkled grated sheep cheese ‘pecorino’ and fried trout. He seemed to have liked everything because he praised us for the good cuisine.

I was invited for a trout in your restaurant by Cardinal Jacques Martin when he was a prefect of the papal house during John Paul’s II pontificate...

Our delicious trout from the Albanian lake have been our speciality for years. The previous prefect of the Pope’s House liked them indeed and therefore he was our permanent guest. Unfortunately, today in the lake trout are not kept and we serve them on a special order.

Let’s return to cardinal Wojtyła. When did you realize that your Polish customer had become Pope?

I was watching the process of the conclave with my uncle, an active Catholic. When a white smoke appeared over the Sistine Chapel and later the name of a new Pope was announced, my uncle – like many people in Italy – thought that an African cardinal had been elected as cardinal Wojtyła was not a famous person. Whereas when I saw him in the papal box of the Basilica, I said: ‘It seems to me that it is the cardinal who was in our restaurant a few days ago’. It happened indeed. It was the first time I had seen Wojtyła as Pope when he came to Castel Gandolfo to break seals from the Apostolic Palace (every time after the Pope’s death, Pope’s Residence is sealed).

Let’s add that it was on 25 October...

During that first visit John Paul II was informed that a national team of Polish canoeists was training on the lake. The Pope told others to be taken to the lake in order to meet with Polish sportsmen – let’s not forget that he liked canoeing very much. You can imagine Poles’ surprise and joy when they saw the Pope. Moreover, I saw the Pope the second time, completely unexpectedly in Gemelli polyclinic. I went with my children to a paediatrician there. In the polyclinic there was much commotion and one of the doctors told me that John Paul II was visiting an ill cardinal.

It was probably Cardinal Jean Villot, a secretary of State at that time whom Pope visited in Gemelli polyclinic on 3 March in 1979.

We were not used to the fact that popes leave Vatican and are present among people

Was Karol Wojtyła, as Pope, in your restaurant?

Cardinal Martin once told me that, when saying good bye to the Holy Father, he said to him that he was going for a supper. The Pope asked him where he was eating the supper, and the cardinal said: ‘I am going to Bucci restaurant to eat a trout’. Then he heard the Pope’s comment: ‘Lucky you!’
I expected the Pope when Cardinal Agostino Casaroli was organising a birthday party in my restaurant. I was asked discreetly whether I could close the restaurant on that occasion. I understood that the intention was to invite John Paul II. We were waiting till 9.15 pm but Pope did not turn up to the supper (probably because of his safety).

Your restaurant is situated between the Apostolic Palace and Barberinich Palace where during the Pope’s holidays the Secretary of State and the prefect of the Pope’s House reside. What are your contacts with the Pope’s environment?

We have always had contacts with popes and their co-operators and guests. My grandmother used to make cakes for Pius XI and Pius XII. When Pius XI came to Castel Gandolfo, he asked his secretary if my grandmother had been informed about his arrival – he liked her sweets so much. Pius XII, still being the secretary of State used to come to us for a supper with a commander of the gendarmerie. Cardinal Pacelli liked especially desserts ‘zuppa inglese’. As Pope he stopped visiting us but used to send his sister, princess Pacelli for a dessert. The situation somehow repeated with another Secretary of State – Giovanni Battista Montini, who used to come to us when he was cardinal and stopped when he became Pope. Our customer was also Cardinal Tarcisio Sodano, a Secretary of State for John Paul II. We have not had a pleasure to host the present Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone yet, but the personal secretary for Benedict XVI – Fr. Prelate Georg Ganswein has visited us.

Have you ever met John Paul II privately?

Once Fr. Prelate Emery Kabongo, an African secretary of the Pope visited me and he suggested me coming to a private Holy Mass. I went to the Palace in the morning and attended the Holy Mass which was concelebrated by John Paul II. After the Eucharist a director of the Pope’s villas Saverio Petrillo stopped me and said that he would introduce me to the Holy Father. When the Pope appeared, Petrillo explained that I am the owner of the restaurant where His Holiness had eaten a meal before the conclave. I do not know if the Pope remembered me, anyway he put his hand on my head and, laughing, said: ‘So, in this case, I will give her double blessing’.

Did anyone from John Paul’s II acquaintances, who visited Him during his holidays in Castel Gandolfo, come to your restaurant?

I must say that we also used to manage a hotel situated above the restaurant. Therefore many Pope’s guests did not only eat in our restaurant but also stayed in our hotel. I remember especially the Pułtawski family who spent some of their holidays in Castel Gandolfo, accompanying the Pope.


"Niedziela" 41/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: