It wasn't your typical papal audience, but Sebastian the python did visit Pope Benedict's Sydney retreat on Wednesday among a group of native Australian animals and their handlers.
"This is Sebastian, a carpet python," said a young man who had the snake draped around his neck.
"They eat things like possums. They can squeeze and wrap around, kind of like what he is doing to my neck."
"Attention," said the 81-year-old pope, bringing laughter to the group, leaning over to touch the reptile.
When the man explained that Sebastian, who was already about two-meters long, could grow to 10 meters, Sydney's Cardinal George Pell told him: "I'm glad you're looking after him."
Other animals brought to the retreat -- where the pope has been resting since arriving in Sydney for the Catholic Church's biggest youth festival -- included an echidna, a baby crocodile and a frill-neck lizard.
And, perhaps because a real koala might not feel at home in the Vatican gardens, the young visitors gave the pope a toy version.