by Cristina Odone, 10/10/2006, telegraph.co.uk
The framed photograph sits proudly on my bookshelf: Pope John Paul II stands in the Sistine Chapel, surrounded by intellectuals from across Europe – and, in a black mantilla, me.
In 1999, the Vatican held a conference to prepare for the Jubilee Year of 2000. They invited a group of academics, writers and broadcasters. Despite some raised eyebrows from Westminster Cathedral about my eligibility, I was Britain's representative. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I was nervous: would my speech on religion and the media be OK, would my fellow delegates discuss the Summa Theologica over their cornflakes, would I have to kiss the Pope's ring?
The one thing I felt certain about was what to wear: the mantilla – a lace head-covering, usually black – perfectly blends humility, modesty and respect. This doesn't mean I choose to wear it to Mass every Sunday. For one thing, although it was once the must-have accessory of Catholic womanhood, only a very few, very pious women use it any more; and, anyway, the mantilla seems a bit ostentatious now that it has adorned Diana, Princess of Wales and Cherie Blair. But as a sartorial statement of my Catholic faith, there is nothing to beat it.