Santorum and Jesus

Posted April 11, 2005 at 6:47pm

No question — and not by accident — Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) had the best seat at Pope John Paul II’s funeral. He sat next to Jesus.

Santorum and his wife, Karen, who were part of the official Congressional delegation to the pope’s funeral, sat with actor Jim Caviezel, who played the crucified savior in “The Passion of The Christ.”

[IMGCAP(1)] Contrary to the rumor swirling around Capitol Hill on Monday, Caviezel did not travel with the Congressional delegation to Rome. Rather, Santorum

“had an extra ticket” and invited Caviezel to sit with him at the funeral, Santorum spokesman Robert Traynham said. (Santorum had the extra ticket because a Democratic Senator’s wife — we hear it was Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (Vt.) — got sick and could not go on the trip.)

“They’re acquaintances,” Traynham said of his boss and the actor. In Rome the night before the funeral, the Santorums had dinner with Caviezel, who also starred in “The Thin Red Line” and “Pay It Forward.” And Caviezel met the Congressional delegation the morning of the funeral as Members boarded buses to go to St. Peter’s Square.

Some lawmakers were clearly smitten with the actor. A few had their pictures taken with him. One Member in particular went gaga when he saw the man who played Jesus sitting with the Santorums at the funeral. “I was pinching myself,” Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.), who sat directly behind the Santorums and Caviezel, told HOH.

Gutknecht said Caviezel seemed to be an expert on all things Vatican — an amateur historian of the holy place. In the hour or so that Members sat in St. Peter’s Square before the funeral began, the actor pointed out various statues and told the whole story of the piercing of Christ with a spear. “He was probably as good or better than any tour guide at the Vatican,” Gutknecht said excitedly.

“And he quoted Jesus in Aramaic and knew exactly what they meant,” a star-struck Gutknecht said.

In an op-ed slated to appear today in Minnesota newspapers, Gutknecht gets a bit carried away with his fascination of Jesus the character, writing, “His steely blue eyes emphasized these were much more than memorized lines for a movie. I wondered whether Mel Gibson chose him for the part, or was he merely an instrument in the decision.”

Gutknecht told HOH that he doesn’t go to the movies often, which may help explain his apparent difficulty in divining the difference between art and reality.

More From Rome. The Congressional trip to the Vatican prompted a few increasingly rare moments of collegiality, the rarest perhaps being a joint statement issued by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) extolling the virtues of the Holy Father as “a saint, a hero, and a friend of the American people.”

The pontiff’s funeral also spurred Democrats to join in a birthday celebration for DeLay on the plane ride over to Rome. (Of course, they had little choice, being trapped tens of thousands of feet in the air and all that, but let’s not put too fine a point on things.)

The bipartisan House delegation surprised DeLay with a cake on the plane for his 58th birthday, which was April 8, and everyone sang “Happy Birthday.”

Apparently (and sadly), what happened on the Love Plane stays on the Love Plane. The Members did not return from the pope’s funeral with a newfound spirit of bipartisanship. In fact, Democratic aides noted the irony of the DeLay-Pelosi joint statement, especially given the great increase in Democratic scrutiny of DeLay in recent weeks.

“I think this is the last time you’ll be getting a joint quote,” said one Democratic leadership aide.

Gephardt’s Powder Room Moment. As one person in the crowd put it, former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) had a “Christine Lahti moment” at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund brunch Sunday.

As readers may recall, Lahti is most famous for being in the powder room in 1998 when she was announced as a winner at the Golden Globe awards.

At the Mayflower Hotel, Victory Fund CEO Chuck Wolfe, to a packed crowd in the hotel’s grand banquet room, asked everyone to please acknowledge Gephardt, the father of Chrissy Gephardt, a Victory Fund board member. Heads turned everywhere, but the former Democratic Congressman from Missouri was nowhere to be found. Someone politely said that he had “stepped away for a moment.”

We assume that’s not a euphemism.

Erin P. Billings contributed to this report.

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