Thursday, February 28, 2013

Arrivederci, Benedetto

From the rooftop terrazzo of the Marianist Generalate house (where I live), you are able to see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

A few minutes before 5:00 Rome time (11:00 on the East Coast of the U.S.) I climbed the stairs, and with a few other Brothers, watched as the helicopter that carried Pope Benedict XVI rise from the Vatican.  It passed not too far from our house as it made its way to the Papal residence at Castel Gandolfo just outside of Rome where Benedict will reside during the upcoming Conclave.  Call me a "Vatican-watcher" now if you want, but it was pretty cool (only way I can describe it right now) to be living and seeing a part of history in the making.

Now, we all know that at 8:00 in Rome tonight, Pope Benedict will officially resign, creating a "sede vacante" (vacant seat) of the Chair of Peter.  The fisherman's ring will be destroyed, Benedict will be known as Pope Emeritus, and the Church will not have a Pope.  (Also, at this time I'm assuming that Benedict will make the switch from his red shoes to brown ones.)  We also know that the Pope has decided to spend the rest of his days in an apostolate of prayer and study, eventually residing in a small "monastery" on the grounds of the Vatican Gardens.  Today as he met one last time with the Cardinals, he pledged his "reverence and obedience" to the next Pope.

With the help of a few friends, I have compiled a list of suggestions for Benedict as he begins to find some extra time on his hands.  Of course, I offer you these in a spirit of lightheartedness and fun.

Things that Pope Emeritus Benedict can now do since he’s retired:

1) Go fishing for fish.
2) Not have to repeat everything in six languages.  (But he’ll probably still keep the Latin just to surprise folks)
3) Wear a plaid flannel cassock and fuzzy slippers.
4) Feed the goldfish in the Vatican Garden fountains.
5) Won’t have to duck when going through short doorways.
6) Can finally get caught up on Downton Abbey. 
7) Make the switch from Prada to Dolce & Gabbana shoes. 
8) Throw a coin in the Trevi fountain after having a bit of gelato. 
9) Annoy the Sisters in the monastery by saying “I’m retired, Baby” in his best Dick Vitale voice. 
10) Take the Pope-Mobile out for a spin on the Autobahn. 
11) Start a reality show called “Vatican Idol" which searches for the best Gregorian Chanter. 
12) Enjoy La Dolce Vita

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A historical day

I'm sure many of you heard or saw news reports from Pope Benedict's last general audience as Pope before he retires on February 28 at 8:00 PM.  Probably most of you heard that there were around 150,000 people inside and around St. Peter's Square to hear the Pontiff give one last catechesis and blessing.  So, I don't want to sound like a jerk, but I just have to say...




Okay, got that out of the way.  I must say, it was a pleasure and a joy to be in the crowd.  From a simple historical point of view, this isn't something that happens very often (or really ever at all).  I have been reflecting on how lucky I am to be in Rome during this time.  No matter your religious beliefs or feelings of the Church and Papacy at this time, I think most would agree that this is a historically unique moment.  As I said in an earlier post, I am struck with how much attention the Vatican continues to garner in a western world that is becoming more and more secularized.  For those who share the Catholic faith, this is not only a historic moment for the Church, but also a  time for deep reflection and prayer, as well as a time to give thanks to God and look forward in hope.  It is a time of great grace. 

So, let me share about the day.

It started normally with our community mass at 6:00.  (Yes, that is our normal time!).  After a quick breakfast, 8 of us left the house at 7:00.  (Now remember, the Audience starts at 10:30).  We hopped on a bus, then on the subway to the stop near the Vatican.  Our rector had waited in line for two hours the day before to pick up the tickets we had reserved.  But, even with the tickets we were not guaranteed a seat.  In fact, my ticket number was 64,081...and, yes, I think they're printed sequentially.  Before entering the Square, we stopped in a sea of people outside the colonnade that circles the square.  I figured we had reached our final destination.  However, the crowd was moving, and as it turns out, we were allowed through security and into the Square.  In fact, as we entered, they just opened up the "second section" and we were able to find front row seating in our section which meant we would be very near the pathway that the Pope would take.  Needless to say, we had awesome seats. 
The crowds starting to gather in front of St. Peter's Basilica.

With Bros. Dani, Nereo, Bosco and Javier.

Also in our group, Bro. Les and Frs. Andre and Pachi.

I passed the two and a half hours of waiting by reading a book (yes, school work...I think the Pope would be proud), meeting two journalism students from Chicago who were sent to cover the story for Northwestern University, and talking with the Swiss Guard who was near our seats.  It was fascinating to talk with him.  Some interesting facts about the Swiss Guards:
  • You must be Swiss and Catholic
  • The guards serve for two years, and new recruits are brought in three times a year
  • Every year, there is a special audience with the Pope to meet the current Guards and their parents
  • The Swiss Guards are there to guard the Pope (not the Vatican, per se).  When Benedict leaves the Vatican, he will go to Castel Gandolfo in the nearby hills.  There will be Guards present until 8:00 (his time of retirement).  At that point, the Guards will (technically) leave because there will not be a Pope to protect.  Their mission changes to serve and protect the Cardinal-electors until a new Pope is elected.
  • He mentioned that this is a somewhat stressful time (for many reasons) because, given the secrecy and the Conclave procedure, no one knows when a new Pope will be named.  They will have probably less than an hour to get ready for thousands of people to enter the Square when white smoke is seen.
  • It was interesting to watch him interact with the many people trying to get around the barricade he was watching.  Folks come up with any story to try to get a better seat.  He held fast.  He also told us that the priests are very difficult because they think they own the place, and that the Italian Sisters can be quite forceful!  
Our friend Peter the Swiss Guard.

At 10:30, the festivities began.  The Pope entered in his Pope-mobile and made a circuit through the crowd to cheers of "Viva Papa" and "Benedetto, Benedetto." 
There were also all kinds of flags.
 From our position, we were about five feet away from where he passed.  Pretty cool! 

I tried to get a picture, but Javier's hands got in the way.

Ahhh, there's the money shot!  By the way, no zoom on the camera!  We were that close.

Just one more.

The Audience began with a reading from the book of Colossians about  gratitude, read in several languages.  Then, the Pope offered some reflections.  He pretty much said "Thank You" to God and to all people for their prayers and support.  He also said that his pontificate has had the good and the bad.  Using the image of the Apostles fishing in the boat, he said there were days of calm seas and sun, but also days of rough seas and storms.  Maybe my favorite line was: "I always knew that the Lord was in this boat, and I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, is not ours, but it is the Lord's." Words of strong faith and humility!  He also repeated the motivations for his choice of resignation - given his health, it is for the good of the Church.  Finally, he commented that he would continue to serve the Church through a life of prayer in the footsteps of his namesake, St. Benedict (the Father of western monasticism).  He is "not abandoning the cross, just resting in a new manner near to the cross."  Good words for all of us to hear.
Believe it or not, the Pope is up there under the canopy.  Even though the picture doesn't show it, we were pretty close all things considered.  But, my binoculars did help, too.

He repeated his message (in a much shorter form) in several languages.  Then, he led the crowd in singing the Our Father and imparted his blessing upon us - extending it to our families and all loved ones back home.  So, consider yourself blessed!  All I can say at this point, was that it was quite moving to be there.  I think I'm still processing the enormity of what I witnessed today. 

We all have our opinions about Pope Benedict XVI.  We have all heard the many criticisms (some of them not unfounded.)  But, what I saw today was a man of great humility and courage.  This could not have been an easy choice (and not popular with some).  It was unprecedented!  But, it is also a lesson in knowing our own limitations and in remembering that the Pope is a human and a human office.  I really believe that he will lead the rest of his life in solitude and prayer - the fears of having "two popes" or "two spiritual guides" are unfounded in my opinion.  At this point, I know very little about the theology of Joseph Ratzinger.  But, my hunch is that we can learn much from him, simply from these last few days. 

And now, we wait for white smoke.
A Cardinal from Germany came down to greet some German pilgrims.  Who knows, maybe this is a picture of the next Pope!
And, of course, the Germans brought a band.
Bro. Dani took a few videos.  Here are links to them:

Video #1: My musings on what was going on inside the Vatican.

Video #2: This is in Italian, but Bro. Dani says he could be taking the video of the first American Pope, and I respond that I'm reading a book on the Acts of the Apostles.  If I'm going to be Pope, I probably need to know this stuff.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Gearing up to say farewell...

Just a quick post (particularly for those who don't have Facebook).  On Wednesday, 27 February, Pope Benedict XVI will give his last general audience as Pope.  To celebrate the occasion, school has been cancelled (like a Vatican Snow Day) and we will be going down to join what I expect to be hundreds of thousands of people for one last Audience.
Got my ticket.  Now I just need to find a thermos for some coffee.
Don't worry, I'll take a bunch of pictures and get a post up of the event as soon as I can.  Until then, you can ponder this picture, compliments of Marianist Artist Bro. Charlie.
Maybe we need a "write the caption" contest for this one!


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Question #3

Shortly after the Pope shared his plans of resigning, many people began making comments on Facebook such as “Bob Jones for Pope.”  I’m convinced of two things.  First of all, my election as Pope would surely be a sign of a very immanent apocalypse.  And second, my brother-in-law was just hoping that I would decree that Sunday mass can't begin before 10:00am.  

However, it begs the question… 

Question #3: Could Bob Jones be the next Pope?

In truly Catholic fashion, the answer is YES and NO.  

The rules state than any baptized male Catholic can be elected as Pope.  So, I meet those requirements.  It’s looking pretty good right now.  Also, the rules say that the Pope-elect must be a Bishop.  But there is also a provision that says if a non-Bishop is elected, he must be immediately made a Bishop.  Nothing some laying on of hands can’t take care of :)  So, it seems that I could, in fact, be the next Pope.  

At this point, it should be noted that, while he wasn’t elected a Pope, St. Ambrose was nominated as Bishop of Milan by the people before he was even baptized!  He was quickly baptized and a week later ordained. 
St. Ambrose as he looks today.
With all this being said, however, the Cardinal electors tend to look for someone with quite a bit of theological and governing experience.  Seeing that I still probably know more math than theology and that I typically can’t even keep my room in order, my chances of being elected seem to be pretty slim.  And, since the 15th century only a Cardinal has been elected.  But, there is now a precedent for not following centuries-old practices…so you never know!  Finally, and maybe the bigger issue, I’m not sure if I could put aside my UD baseball hat for a taller one.

Here’s a little video that’s been circulating online that gives a basic explanation of why, technically I could be elected Pope, my chances are pretty slim.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Question #2

Here’s my attempt to respond to a second question about the recent resignation announcement of  Pope Benedict XVI.

Question #2: What’s it like in Rome these days?

Let me begin by saying that my time in Rome has already been somewhat surreal.  Every day, I walk past the Coliseum when I go to school.  And on the way home on the bus, I pass the Circus Maximus (think Ben Hur.)  Just today I walked by the Ancient Roman Forum just because I could.  And on the Memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius (how the Church celebrates Valentine’s Day) I went to the Church of San Clemente where the remains of Cyril are kept.  Rome is a special city just to begin with.  Furthermore, Rome is always a little crazy.  There are mobs of people all over the place, traffic is always nuts, and anywhere you look, you can see a group of nuns (veils and all) walking around.  

The Roman Forum
So, perhaps needless to say, the news from last week has simply added to the uniqueness and craziness that is Rome.  Every day, there is news shared around our dinner table…did you hear that Cardinal Dolan is now in Rome…someone just got a tweet about the Pope’s name during his retirement…there are rumors that the Conclave will start sooner than expected.  At school (remember most are seminarians and sisters) the daily conversation usually ends up with something about the Pope.  At my weekly Italian lesson the topic of conversation of course revolved around the Pope and who the next one might be.  There is a papal-vibe all over the place.

I decided to join in the craziness this past Sunday.  I went to an English mass at Santo Spirito in Sassia near Vatican City, and then made my way to St. Peter’s Square, past the cadre of media vans, for the “Sunday Angelus.”  This is a typical Sunday event: the Pope appears from his study window from high in the Papal apartments, gives a little talk (I call it a fervor-ino), greets pilgrims in several languages, prays the Angelus (a traditional noontime prayer), and blesses the crowd.  In all, it lasts about twenty minutes.   
Here's the Angelus in Latin on the jumbo-screens in St. Peter's Square.
The news trucks ready for any story that comes out of the Vatican.

The schedule was normal this Sunday, but the crowd was enormous.  The Square itself was full, and from what I could see, Via della Conciliazione, the road that runs into St. Peters, was also full of people.  Afterwards I heard a report on the BBC and they said “tens of thousands of people.”  I believe it!  When the Pope appeared, shouts of “Benedetto…Benedetto” mixed with “Grazie Papa” rose from the crowd. 
When the Pontiff greeted those in attendance from Italy, the crowd went nuts!  We know that Italy is becoming more and more secularized every day, but the Italians still love their Pope!  He may be German, but it seems that the Italians have adopted him as one of their own.  (However, he’s not a very good Italian – the Angelus started promptly at noon right after the bells finished tolling and he pretty much said what he wanted to say and left.  German efficiency at its best!)
The people arriving for the Angelus.

The gathering crowd.  I was pretty much in the middle of the Square (near the obelisk) and was surrounded by people.

So, he's kind of a ways up.

Looking out on the main road that leads into St. Peter's Square.
A little video from the Angelus (not the best quality, but it should give you a taste of what it's like).

Along these lines, the media has been covering these events quite a bit.  Every day, there is a new article in my news-feed online.  One of our Brothers who works near the Vatican communications office said he had to fight his way into the office one day because of the conglomeration of media outlets.  I don’t want to attack or blame the media for anything, but it strikes me that a Church and office that is “irrelevant” (as some have said) is getting this much coverage and attention.  And, a Church that is losing meaning for a number of people continues to draw a crowd.

So, to answer the question, I’ll just say that Rome is kind of crazy and teeming with all things Pope-Conclave-Church these days.  But, then, that’s not really all that different from any other day in Rome!
Another picture of Benedict.

And one more of the Square.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Question #1

Folks across the world have been wondering what the resignation of Pope Benedict means.  Like most people, I don’t really have a clue.  But, I am certain of one thing:  I am getting a lot of questions!  (Most of which I don’t have any answers to!)  But, I will try to give some sort of response (not an answer per se) to some of them in the next few weeks.  So, here goes…

Question #1: Were you surprised?

I think the obvious answer is “yes.”  It seems that only a few top-ranking officials and Benedict’s brother knew what was coming.  One Cardinal recounted that as the Pope declared his intentions, the eyes in the room were going nuts.  It seems the Cardinals were all taken by surprise.  I really wish Benedict would have ended with “Bazinga!”  I also heard a story that most of the media covering the event didn’t understand the Latin.  One German reporter started saying, “He’s resigning” and no one believed her.  Maybe this will persuade me to pay attention better in my Latin class.  At my own house, there was definitely an atmosphere of shock.

On the other hand, we have to remember that the Benedict once said, “If a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign." (from “Light of the World”, a book-length interview with a German reporter) 

Also, we know that Benedict cited health concerns and declining strength as reasons for his resignation.  To this, I can attest.  I have had the opportunity to see Benedict three times since coming to Rome.  I attended a general audience in September, a mass to open the Year of Faith in October, and Christmas Midnight Mass in St. Peters.  As I think back, there is a marked difference between September and December.  At the audience, he looked frail, but then he is 85 years old.  But, at the end as he was leaving, he stopped and held a baby, interacting with her parents.  In December, he looked markedly tired.  I specifically remember his entrance.  He was on a moving platform and had very little animation, almost like he was holding onto the bar for dear life.  We have to admit that it was late (even for a 36 year old – I was tired).  But, he seemed to be missing some of the charisma I had seen earlier. 
At the end of the Audience.  Afterwards, this baby and her parents became instant celebrities.

Entering the Square for mass.
Christmas 2012

Finally, we must remember that his resignation is not unprecedented.  The only thing is, the last time it happened was almost 600 years ago! 

Stay tuned for more from Rome.