The Canonization Chronicles: Rebuilding Rome (or at least a part of it!)

The pace of life in and around St. Peter’s is really so full of energy and enthusiasm right now, the best word I’ve seen to describe comes from NCR reporter Joshua McElwee — a carnival.  The constuction and preparation of the altar and platform and other structures in the Piazza is one thing.  I’ve lost count of the various national and regional flags, the languages being spoken, and even the number of times street vendors have approached with the finest souvenirs ever made!  Really!  They told me so!

Everything is new and fascinating in this Eternal City right now, at least the parts closest to the Vatican.  New structures have been built, especially the press scaffolds and so on.  Traffic has been completely re-routed around the Vatican, and most of the shops and cafes and restaurants will be closed all day tomorrow because of the press of the crowds.

photo 1It has been another wonderful day with friends and new acquaintances. I had a quick coffee with NCR reporter Joshua McElwee, and then, after meeting with brother deacons Rob Mascini (the Netherlands) and Enzo Petrolino (Italy), I wandered over to the Borgo Pio, one of my favorite streets in Rome, just around the corner from St. Peter’s.  Always a fascinating place people watching!

There was even some nice music for pranzo. . . .

After wandering around this morning and early afternoon, with the temperature rising fast, I stopped outside the Libreria Editrice Vaticana (bookstore) near the Vatican Press Office for a lemonade.  Soon a couple came up and asked me in halting Italian if they could sit down as well!  I answered “sure” in my best Midwestern English, and met a delightful couple from Chicago.  While they are thrilled with the canonizations in a general way, they’re really hoping to encounter Francis.  This seems a very three popescommon response.  People are happy for the two popes being canonized, but in the hearts of many, Francis is already a saint as well, and he’s still with us!  One of the most common images (of which I have many in my bag already) shows the two new saints flanking  Pope Francis who is in the middle and slightly elevated over Pope John and Pope John Paul II.

My new friends told me that this was their first ever trip to Rome, but that they were already looking forward to coming back when things would be less hectic.

Among all the various national groups, the one that stands out are the Poles.  As one person put it to me, “The Poles are back!”  There are signs and songs and shouts all over the place; I can only imagine what will happen tomorrow when Pope John Paul II is announced as “Saint John Paul.”  But Pope John is not forgotten.  I saw several groups of people John’s home diocese of Bergamo: from young and old,  clergy, religious and laity,  all of whom are literally camping in St. Peter’s Square.  Although the police are trying to tell people they can’t do that, no one has yet started removing them either.  It will be interesting to see what happens on that score as well.

I had a delightful conversation with CNS reporter Carol Glatz and then decided to grab a taxi and return to our lodgings and rest for tomorrow.  But, with every respect to my friends and colleagues, the highlight of the day was about to happen, completely by chance.



The Via della Conciliazione is now a pedestrian thoroughfare.  People are simply walking up and down the whole length of the street, and the only motorized vehicles allowed now are related to public safety.  Along the way, I encountered this delightful group of children being entertained by some local workers.  Enjoy the video.  It makes my day every time I watch it!

I have come back to the religious house where I’m staying where they young rector from the Congregation of Mariannhill Missionaries (CMM) and I took a light supper in the kitchen and talked about many things.  Born and raised in South Africa, Fr. Musa is excited about the new energy being found in and about the church.  He won’t be able to attend the canonizations tomorrow because he serves in several parishes on the weekend, but he asked for special prayers at the canonization and promised his in return.  The house has pilgrims from the United States (well, just me), the Netherlands,  and Germany.  There was a young woman from Michigan staying here, according to Musa, but she called him to say that she was going to camp out in St. Peter’s Square tonight.

As for me, I will be getting up at 2:45 AM.  Sister Philomena, the 84-year old dynamo who runs the kitchen, is putting out some breakfast things for me tonight, and Musa is getting up to arrange a taxi at 3:30 AM.  (The taxi company wouldn’t arrange things in advance!).  He said it was his way of participating in the event.  I’ll take the taxi to Saint John Lateran to pick up the bus which will take us to the edge of Vatican City.  There we will be met by officials from the Vatican’s Pilgrimage office at 5:00 AM and escorted to the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina to await the Mass and our service as ministers of communion.

So, it’s off to bed for a few hours sleep.  Tomorrow will be an incredible day!  Oh, and the forecast calls for rain and storms, but only AFTER the conclusion of the Mass.  We shall see. . . .

Pope Francis and Changing the Church

Pope Francis smilingOver on, John White has a piece entitled “Year in Review: Church Teachings the Pope Francis Has Changed.”  After some rather pointed (snarky?) comments, he leaves a large white space to communicate that — surprise, surprise! — the Pope has not changed any teachings at all.  It’s not particularly original: many folks who are nervous about Pope Francis try to emphasize that he has not changed any doctrines or dogmas of the Church.  They also characterize those who are excited about the Francis papacy as people who are somehow “anti-Benedict”.  Without naming names, many more “conservative” commentators seem to thrive on mocking this attitude.  I mention all of this, NOT as a way to exacerbate such polarization, simply to acknowledge that the polarization exists.  Certainly some people HAVE gone too far in their enthusiasms — on both sides.  However, it seems to me that most people find themselves rightly in the middle of things: We can love and respect previous popes while also loving and respecting the current pope.  So why bring up this particular attitude at all?

trinity_1I do so because there is a danger with articles like Mr. White’s.  With the snide, defensive tone often employed in pieces like this leading to the conclusion that “the Pope hasn’t changed any teachings,” one can easily come away with the sense that nothing significant has been going on over the last year!

But here’s the point.  The Church is so much more than her official teachings, as important as they are.  To permit an inference that “no change in teaching” means “no change in the church” is dangerously misleading.  The Church is a Trinitarian communio: the People of God, the Mystical Body of Christ, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  Yes, we have a body of teachings, but we are more than the doctrines themselves.  To suggest that we are the sum of our teachings is specious; to suggest that our teachings are the most fundamental of our attributes is misleading.  I am of course not minimizing the importance of church teaching, but simply acknowledging the far deeper Mystery involved.

Pope Julius II Pope Innocent IIIAnd this, I think, is precisely where Pope Francis is making a huge difference in the Church.  Each pope contributes to the life of the Church as his talents and gifts permit.  We have had warrior popes in the past, deeply spiritual popes, scoundrel popes, charismatic popes and intellectual popes.  Some have focused on teaching; others have focused on law, and still others have focused on structural matters.  At this point in our history, we happen to be blessed with a pope who has his own unique set of gifts and strengths, and he is changing the Church in ways just as substantive as prior popes, and his focus on the radical servant nature of the Church — as described by Pope Paul VI in his closing homily to the bishops of the Second Vatican Council — is serving to recast the face of the Church in the 21st Century.  He IS challenging all of us — the Church — to change.

francesco blessing