Benedict’s last papal kiss for Furman alumnus’ baby
In the midst of early spring’s talk of white smoke versus gray smoke, predictions and predilections, Jonathan Arrington ‘04 was focused on something else.
One that would be the last infant blessing given by Pope Benedict after he announced his departure from the papacy.
Jacob Benedict Arrington, named in part for the former pope, was just two weeks old when his father took him to Pope Benedict’s final “Wednesday Audience.”
“Few babies are blessed in part because it’s not easy to make your way across the Pope’s path. However, my wife was ill that day and the Order of Malta, a Vatican charitable organization that focuses on the care of the sick at papal events, took my wife, me, and our child to an area where Pope Benedict would drive away from his last public event,” Arrington said. “Our little boy, named after St. Benedict and Pope Benedict, was the last child blessed at [his] final public appearance on the day before he gave his official Demission, or renouncement of the papal ministry.”
Despite his current zeal for the papacy, Arrington did not arrive at Furman in 1999 as a follower of the Catholic faith. In fact, he considered himself “anti-Catholic” before professors challenged him to qualify his prejudices. The young student explored his spirituality by attending a Cultural Life Program (CLP) that charted his future career and religious experience. “The CLP was led by a lay Catholic apologist sharing his journey to the faith and I stayed in the room grilling him until 2:30 a.m.,” he said. Soon after, Arrington switched his major to Greek and started studying multiple languages as well as the Catholic faith. He even expanded his course load to take Hebrew in the afternoons — “just for fun.”
Arrington’s relationships with several Furman faculty members also influenced his academic path. One faculty member, in particular, pushed Arrington to examine his ideas. “I developed a deep and lasting friendship with one professor whose courses I actually never took, Dr. David Morgan, who recently passed away,” he said.
Arrington joined Morgan for lunches, where they spoke Latin over chicken tenders and the dining hall’s famous cookies. Together, they attended Spoken Latin camps and conferences across the country. “Dr. Morgan defined my Furman education,” Arrington said. “A professor in whose courses I was never enrolled decided to take me under his wings, to mentor and counsel me, and to encourage me to go to Rome after graduation.”
Arrington attended three Catholic seminaries after teaching Spanish, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and others. But he was forced to leave seminary for health reasons. Instead, he continued his theological studies in Rome and obtained a License in Patristics, theology and church history with a focus on the original texts of the early Christians. While there, he met his wife and began work translating the L’Observatore Romano, the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, from Spanish, French, Italian, or Latin into English.
For such a lover of the faith, traditions, and language of the Vatican, Pope Benedict’s blessing was a surreal moment. “We had tears in our eyes; we were speechless,” Arrington said. “Our dear Pope was retiring to a life of prayer, probably never to be seen by the outside world again, and we had named our son after him. Even to dream that he would take our baby in his arms, kiss him on the forehead and bless him – we would have never imagined it possible.”