Meeting the Pope felt like bathing in a warm sea of whakapono, tumanako and aroha.

I mean we've been saying these things for ever as an aspiration or inspiration and here we met the embodiment of that message, Pope Francis.

It's hard to explain but being in the presence of greatness yet grand humility with a deep love for people, 1.4 billion Catholics can't be wrong! And a billion other Christians like us too.

We were still wondering right up to the moment whether we would meet him or not because the visit had already been put back a day due to unforeseen circumstances.


However with the help of friends we made it through gridlocked traffic (like the Mini in The Italian Job) to arrive at the Vatican bang on time.

We were met by a stern looking Swiss cardinal looking intently at his watch - he turned out to be very funny.

So through the Vatican rear gates we rushed, swerving through archways and alleys as Swiss soldiers wave us this way and that to keep on time for our rendezvous with the Pope.

Rushed through a backdoor and up a private lift, we finally get excited that we might meet the most popular man on the planet.

We are ushered through long halls of unimaginable glory of art frescoes by Michelangelo and others.

We wait in the room where the previous Pope Benedict resigned. My wife Mere looks out of the window where the Pope sometimes addresses the masses below in St Peter's Square.

There are thousands milling below who will never meet the Pope despite having travelled from all corners of the earth in their personal and spiritual pilgrimages.

When we eventually arrive at the meet and greet chambers all nine of us were greeted one by one and introduced as David's tribal guardians and his escorts to and from Rome.

That is Sir David Moxon, an ex-Anglican archbishop of the New Zealand dioceses who was our liaison between the Pope and is my wife's brother-in-law.

Then with a mischief grin the Pope made a spontaneous throat-cutting gesture across his chest like saying to David "you're outta here mate! Your tribe has spoken".

Each of his cardinals looked like Robert Redford or George Clooney, real handsome buggers, who translated his Italian into English word for word.

These guys were seriously funny. You see, the Pope has a playful manner with a mischief glint in his eye. And this has rubbed off on his most trusted I think.

He's disarming and immediately makes you relax in his presence or that's what I felt anyway.

Then he does another semi-circle to hand each of us a personal memento - a special commemoration medal.

I take the opportunity to mihi to him in Italian - remembering I only had one chance and one minute, the Pope's office had indicated that he's not sure about a hongi so I don't go there.

Nek minit - I can't find my piece of paper with the right Italian words on it, I'd left it with all our jackets and phones and stuff in the other room.

So I pull out a napkin from my shirt and pretend I'm reading from it, launching straight into it without the English translation only with my butchered Italian, this is what I said.

"Your Holiness I bring greetings from all the tribes of New Zealand. I extend an open invitation for you to come and visit our country.

"And to support the cause of sainthood for Mother Maria Joseph Aubert. May God bless you and sanctify your ministry."

• Ngahiwi Tomoana is Ngati Kahungunu iwi chairman