• Pope’s new mission: Buying his own shoes

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    VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis was the toast of social media on Wednesday after successfully completing his latest groundbreaking mission: popping out of the Vatican to buy himself some new footwear.

    OUT SHOPPING Pope Francis is seen in this screen grab inside a store outside the Vatican. The pontiff bought orthopedic shoes.

    OUT SHOPPING Pope Francis is seen in this screen grab inside a store outside the Vatican. The pontiff bought orthopedic shoes.

    To the barely containable delight of his many fans in cyberspace, the 80-year-old pontiff visited a pharmacy near the Holy See on Tuesday to pick up a pair of orthopedic shoes of the kind that help reduce the pain caused by chronic sciatica, from which he suffers.

    The visit was filmed and snapped on smartphones by a handful of customers who were in the shop at the time and later uploaded images to social media.

    A selection of pictures was posted on a Facebook page described as belonging to Rome barmaid Martina Duarte with the caption: “A Tuesday with the Pope… my love I am incredibly proud of you!”

    Most of the online comments were similarly breathless in tone, admirers appearing to share Duarte’s amazement at the sight of the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics doing his own shopping, posing for pictures and blessing a crucifix belonging to one of the shop’s staff.

    One commenter on Italian daily La Repubblica’s site called for Francis to be immediately installed as the new mayor of Rome, while another simply noted, presumably with a disbelieving shake of the head: “The greatness of this man!”

    It was not the first time the former Jorge Bergoglio has created a sensation by leaving his modest lodgings in the St. Martha boarding house to do a spot of shopping.

    There was similar excitement in September 2015 when he was spotted at his optician near the Spanish Steps in Rome’s historic center.

    That in turn recalled the general stupefaction around the time of his election in 2013 when it emerged that he not only carried his own briefcase but also paid his own hotel bills.

    Many suspect an element of image construction in these well-publicized moments. But Francis’s frugality and fondness for mingling with ordinary people predates him becoming pope.

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