Benedict XVI's cobbler fondly remembers retired Pope

The man who is known around the world as "the Pope's shoemaker" expressed sadness at the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI but also gratitude for the opportunity to serve the pontiff.

"I saw on television that he was wearing my shoes and I felt so proud," recalled Antonio Arellano, who mended shoes for Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI when he was cardinal and also made special shoes for him during his pontificate.

In a March 4 interview with CNA, Arellano explained that among his vast clientele of cardinals, monsignors and religious, his most special client will always be Pope Benedict XVI.

Arellano was born in Trujillo, Peru, where the learned to be a cobbler. He moved to Rome in 1990 and opened a shoe repair shop near the Vatican.

Today, a pair of red shoes and a picture of Benedict XVI hang over the entrance to the shop, and the walls inside are covered with articles about "The Shoemaker of the Pope."

Arellano recalled that he first met Benedict XVI and his personal secretary Archbishop Georg Ganswein years ago when the Pope-emeritus was still a cardinal. Benedict XVI was a simple, normal client, he said. 

"He came in, very politely said good morning, sat down while I did my work, and afterwards said goodbye and thank you."

On the day that Benedict XVI was elected Pope, Arellano said that he was at a nearby restaurant watching the events on television.

"Everyone was running through the streets, and I saw Cardinal Ratzinger appear on television," he explained. "I was amazed because he was my customer and I was so happy."

"All of us there were local artisans, we all knew each other and we were thrilled. It was a moment of great joy for us, because someone like the Pope came to our store."

Arellano said he remembered Benedict XVI's shoe size, 42, and decided to give him a new pair of red shoes in person for his pontificate. He gave them to the Pope during a general audience at the Vatican.

"When we got there to greet him, the Pope recognized me, smiled and said, 'Here is my shoemaker.' It was a wonderful moment, because he makes you feel important," Arellano said. "He gave a blessing to me and my family and we said goodbye."

When the time came for the beatification of John Paul II, Arellano received a request from the Vatican to make a new pair of shoes for Benedict XVI.

"It was awesome, because then I really did feel like I was the Holy Father's shoemaker," he said, explaining that "it's one thing to give the Pope a present; it's another for them to call you to specifically make some shoes for him."

Arellano said he used only the best materials to make the Pope's shoes. "Natural, very smooth leather," he explained, and very light soles. He also touched the shoes up before World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid. 

"It was great because I also made him some slippers to wear at home," he added.

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