ROME — Papal etiquette dictates bending at the knee in genuflection, and, if not kissing the ring on the hand, then certainly shaking it.
Of course, just a warning, Holy Father: If he gets the chance, Salim Makki might be tempted to kind of wing it.
“Knowing my brother, if he has the opportunity,” said Zainab Makki, older sister of the Michigan Wolverines defensive tackle, “he will definitely hug the Pope.”
Makki is one of two Wolverines players — OT Grant Newsome being the other — who may be getting at least a few minutes of personal time with Pope Francis when the Michigan football team attends the Vatican’s general audience ceremonies early Wednesday, a program that should begin at approximately 3 a.m. in Ann Arbor.
The two players will be seated near Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh and his wife Sarah, and be part of a presentation of a ceremonial Michigan helmet — one that includes a cross and a papal signature — to Pope Francis, the 266th head of the Roman Catholic Church.
Newsome and Makki won a team-wide essay competition in which Harbaugh asked players to submit a written argument as to why they should join him in greeting the Pope.
While Harbaugh is a practicing Catholic, Makki is a devout Muslim.
‘No words can express our happiness. It definitely has something to do with the Michigan difference and playing for Coach Harbaugh.’
– Zainab Makki, sister of Michigan DT Salim Makki
“Islam, like any other religion, teaches us to care and love one another,” said Zainab, who was born in Sierra Leone, which is also the birthplace of both her parents. “I believe that Pope Francis sees the value in that and champions those values. Co-existence is important, especially in today’s society.”
Salim Makki told reporters Sunday afternoon shortly after the team’s arrival in Rome that he appreciated Pope because of his understanding of Islam as a religion of peace.
“The opportunity means so much to us, it’s as if we’re meeting the Pope alongside with [Salim],” Zainab said. “He is representing the true values of Islam which is peace and mutual respect. It truly is an honor. No words can express our happiness. It definitely has something to do with the Michigan difference and playing for Coach Harbaugh.
“When we got the news, we were thrilled, my dad especially — he watches the news a lot and understands the value of the Pope. Salim was beyond excited. He felt like he could meet one of his heroes.”
If you’re staying up stateside, the ceremony will be streamed live via The Vatican’s YouTube channel.
It’s not quite tailgating if you’ve got your family huddled around a laptop at 2 in the morning, pushing coffee to its limits. But the Makkis wouldn’t miss this for anything.
“We will stay up to watch it live at 2 a.m. and most likely record it, as well,” Zainab said. “We do not want to miss the moment. We have been so excited and eager since the day we received the news that he was selected due to his essay. This is something we can look back on for generations to come.”