Islam: Unfinished Work of “Nostra Aetate”

popejewishfriendToday in Rome the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews released a new document exploring unresolved theological questions at the heart of Christian-Jewish dialogue.  According to Vatican Radio,

The new document, entitled “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable”, marks the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking declaration ‘Nostra Aetate’. It was presented at a press conference in the Vatican on Thursday, by Cardinal Kurt Koch, Fr Norbert Hofmann of the Vatican Commission, together with two Jewish representatives, Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, and Dr Ed Kessler, founding director of the Cambridge Woolf Institute.

intro-judaismIt has been a distinct privilege for me over the years to serve as a Hebrew linguist in a variety of contexts, and five years ago I was asked by the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies to give a very brief reflection on “The Significance of Nostra Aetate” on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of its promulgation by the Second Vatican Council.  So what I am about to write should not be read in any way as a criticism of the great efforts that have been made over the past fifty years to celebrate the relationship of Jews and Catholics!  And, as the new document released today underscores, so much more remains to be done in this regard, and I fully embrace that effort.

But. . . .

Nostra Aetate is about much more than the relationship of Catholics and Jews.  In today’s world, we need to pick up the other threads of that marvelous document, including what it has to say about Islam.

I love the scripture that is the title of the new document: “The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable” is from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 11:29.  Indeed, God has given many gifts and many calls, and Nostra Aetate focuses on those which have been given to those outside of Christianity.

nostraLet’s take a closer look at the document itself.  Much has been written about the genesis of the document, so there is no need to rehearse all of that here.  Suffice it to say that Nostra Aetate, in the final analysis, is not the work of one person, as influential as so many individuals were in its inception and development: John XXIII himself, Jules Isaac, Augustin Bea, to name just a few.

Rather, the document, after years of often heated debates, is the result of the collective work of the Catholic bishops of the world gathered together in solemn Council.  The people of those conciliar days, people of all faiths and of no faith at all, had lived through the horrors, violence, death and destruction of the first half of the 20th Century.  The scope of that violence had so expanded that old dividing lines began to disappear.  A bomb, after all, doesn’t discriminate when it explodes between ages, religions, military status, or wealth.  Following the lead of St. Pope John XXIII, the Council itself soon embraced the reality that its work was indeed for “all people of good will” and not simply for Catholics.

christ dachauThe reason that Pope John called the Council in the first place was so that all the bishops from around the world could together tackle the very real life and death issues that were affecting all people, not just Catholics.  This was not some simple superficial ceremonial event; it was, in fact, an attempt to make faith in God something transformative so that the world would never again find itself in the midst of the tragedies of the first half of the 20th century.  It is in this light, then, that the significance of Nostra Aetate must be seen.

It is a brief document of only five numbered paragraphs; only one of them, paragraph four, specifically addresses Judaism.  The other paragraphs, therefore, must be seen in their application to ALL “non-Christian religions.”  Paragraph #1 sets the stage:

1. In our time, when day by day humankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions. In her task of promoting unity and love among all people, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what people have in common and what draws them to fellowship.

What are these shared elements among all people?

One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth.  One also is their final goal, God. His providence, His manifestations of goodness, His saving design extend to all, until that time when the elect will be united in the Holy City, the city ablaze with the glory of God, where the nations will walk in His light.

People expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the human heart:  What is a human being? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what is sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?

medicine-man-cheyene-healerSo far, then, the Council is focused on all people.  Now, in paragraph #2 the bishops turn to people who have found “a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense.”  These comments apply to a wide variety of religious expression, from various Eastern forms to Native American and on and on.  Then they turn specifically to certain Eastern religions:

In Hinduism, people contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust.

BuddhaBuddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which people, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination.

Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing “ways,” comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites.

And here comes the money quote, the teaching that encapsulates the entire document, in my opinion:

“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.”

She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people.

IslamParagraph #3 specifically addresses Islam:

3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

kidAnd in language made even more poignant over the last generation, the bishops write:

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.

Paragraph #4, as I mentioned above, treats Judaism.  I leave that paragraph aside for this posting NOT because I do not firmly believe in its profound significance but because I am trying in this instance to offer the broader context of Nostra Aetate, especially vis-a-vis Islam.  So we now turn to the concluding paragraph of the document, paragraph #5:

5. We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any person, created as he is in the image of God. Humanity’s relation to God the Father and the relationship of people to their brothers and sisters are so linked together that Scripture says: “He who does not love does not know God” (1 John 4:8).

Therefore, the bishops conclude with these words.  Please notice well that these words apply UNIVERSALLY and are not restricted to our relationship to Judaism alone.  Indeed these words apply to ALL OTHER RELIGIONS given the scope of this documents.  Do they inform us today in our dealings with the followers of Islam?islam-prayer

No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned.

The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against anyone or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to “maintain good fellowship among the nations” (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men,(14) so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.(15)

It is in this light, then, that we find Nostra Aetate so profound.  The statement that “the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy” could sound rather obvious to some readers today, but for those bishops, this was a realization formed out of the real agonies endured by so many within their own lifetimes.  They came to recognize that truth and holiness are not the province of any one church or faith, or form of government or economic system, and that it is only in recognizing this fundamental truth that healing and peace may be found.  In a world still reeling from successive wars and atrocities, the bishops found a greater appreciation of our shared scriptures, especially St. Paul’s famous insight that “God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made” (NA 4; Rom 11:28-29).

Nearly all of the bishops who promulgated the document have now passed into eternal life, but we remain.  They brought their own life experiences, and the experiences of their people, into the Council aula, with the hope of transforming the world into a place where all could live in peace and justice.  That mission has not changed for us.  We too must bring our own experiences to bear on the life of the world that still suffers from poverty, war, discrimination, injustice, violence and death.  In what ways, concretely, can we search together for Truth and Holiness?  In what ways, concretely, can we work together – as sisters and brothers in a shared heritage – to end all hatred and persecution?  Just as the bishops then together hammered out a document, a mission, to lay before the world, we “in our own time” (NOSTRA AETATE) must do the same — not only with Islam as a religion but even those fringe elements who hate us and would destroy us.

St. Pope John XXIII is said to have remarked about Communism: “Communism is the enemy of the Church, but the Church has no enemies.”  That insight — that the Church has no enemies — can enlighten us no less today, especially during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

 

Short Papacy? Consider the Precedent

Francis in KoreaOn his recent flight back to Rome from Korea, Pope Francis chatted for about an hour with the reporters traveling with him.  In response to a question about his popularity, he mentioned that he kept things in perspective by remembering that he would probably be around only for two or three more years.  As he put it, “I know this will last a short time, two or three years, and then to the house of the Father,” and in response to an earlier question he suggested that he might follow the example of Pope Emeritus Benedict and retire at some point.  You can read the full text of the press conference here.

As I read the interview, especially about the pope’s thoughts about his own future “on the job”, so to speak, I was reminded of St. John XXIII, whose own reign was less than five years in length.  He once remarked about his relationship with the Roman Curia that, because of his advanced age, no one expected him to live very long.  He continued that were certainly right about that, but their mistake was that they thought he wouldn’t do anything while he was there!

John and CuriaDespite his short papacy, St. John inaugurated a sea change both within the Church as well as how the Church relates to the world.  Not only did he convoke the Second Vatican Council, he also initiated the process of a complete revision of the Code of Canon Law.  Some popes with much longer reigns accomplished far less!

Let’s see what Pope Francis has in mind. . . .

A Voice from Vatican II: “The Switches are Thrown!”

There is so much barbarism and tragedy in the world today.  Why, then, am I blogging again on the Second Vatican Council?  Simple.  Others far more competent and knowledgeable than I are already offering their own insights.  I also believe that the Council, fifty years on, continues to offer us a point of view — a hermeneutic, if you will — through which to confront today’s pastoral challenges.

br051205Konig_1With that in mind, I recently came across an interview given fifty years ago by the influential young Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, Franz Cardinal Koenig.[1] Before turning to the interview itself, however, it will be helpful to know something about the man himself.

Franz Koenig was born in 1905 into a farming family, the eldest of five children.  At the age of fourteen he entered the seminary for the diocese of Sankt Pölten, Austria.  He studied ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy and humanities; he drew and painted and wrote poetry and drama.  He continued his education in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1930.  He was ordained a priest in 1933 and earned another doctorate in theology in 1936. Throughout his time in the university he took courses on experimental psychology, biology, mineralogy, physics, chemistry and languages, but he wasn’t finished yet.  He continued post-doctoral studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome (old-Persian religion and languages) and then obtained a fellowship for two semesters at the Faculty of Sociology of the Catholic University of Lille, France, where he obtained a diploma. He spoke German, English, Italian, French, Spanish, Russian and Latin, and could understand Syriac, ancient Persian and Hebrew.  His language skills would later prove invaluable on his many missions as a papal representative.

tn_konig7_jpgIn 1937, he returned to his home diocese and took on a variety of pastoral ministries, often involving the youth of the diocese.  Due to the Nazi regime in Austria, Fr. Koenig’s activities in teaching youth in defiance of Nazi law, made him a target of the Gestapo.  After the war, he was sent back to school in preparation for an academic career.  In 1945, when the University of Vienna reopened and he took courses in law, finance and economics, statistics, political science, linguistics, Syriac texts, ancient and modern history, modern philosophy, comparative anatomy, methodology of botany, morphology of plants, and more. He served as Professor of religion at the College of Krems from 1945-1948. In 1947, he also became a lecturer on the Old Testament and on comparative theology at the University of Vienna. Finally, he taught moral theology at the University of Salzburg from 1948 until 1952, when he was ordained a bishop at the age of 47.  Within four years, at the age of 50, he became the Archbishop of Vienna and was one of the first Cardinals named by St. John XXIII in 1958.  When he died in 2004 at the age of 98, he was last remaining Cardinal made by Pope John.  Cardinal Koenig was a close friend of Pope John’s, and his duties as Cardinal involved outreach to non-Christians and to a variety of locales around the world.  He was a strong proponent of outreach to all peoples, once saying that “As chaplain in St Pölten, I learned that I have to go to the people, that they must know me before we can have any meaningful talk,” he said. “So when I came to Vienna, I had no great political strategy or concept. I simply felt that I wanted contact with people of every persuasion. . . .  I wanted a dialogue with all people, and that included the leading political figures.”

KONIG FRANZ (+2004)1In 1964, the Council was in its Third Session.  Cardinal Koenig granted an interview which focused on the work of the Council as it was beginning to see the final directions various issues were going to take.  The Constitution on the Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) had already been promulgated at the end of the previous session (1963), and work was nearing completion on the landmark Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium).  Much work remained, but the end was in sight, even if it would take a fourth and final session to complete everything.  And at the beginning of the interview, Koenig offered a wonderful insight about the work of the Council: “The switches are now thrown in the right direction.”  The metaphor is most apt, emphasizing that the impact of the Council itself will only truly be known in the decades following the event of the Council.  The Council was putting the institutional Church on a particular course, and only in the years to come would the results of those “thrown switches” be known.

He continued the image by saying, “We must appreciate the overall influence emanating from these deliberations, the impact resulting from them and we should realize that the gears certainly cannot be thrown into reverse anymore.”  Citing the work going on with dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium)and the document on the pastoral responsibilities of bishops (the Decree Christus Dominus), Koenig observed that “easily 80% of the council Fathers are fully behind the innovations now proposed, especially in regard to what has been called the collegial principle, which in practice implies a decentralization and internationalization of the Church.”  He was being very conservative in his estimates.  By the time the final voting on these documents took place, Lumen gentium was approved by a vote of 2,151 placet to 5 non placet, and Christus Dominus by a vote of 2,319 placet to 2 non placet.

koenig stampThroughout the interview, Cardinal Koenig keeps to his theme that the Council is only the beginning of reform.  Citing world hunger as one example, he says, “We should face [it] realistically by expressing our concern for it and thereby inaugurate the sort of collective initiatives which eventually lead to tangible results.”

For we who serve fifty years later, I suggest that this long-range view remains essential in our own approach to ministry and the terrible pastoral needs of the world today.  How practical and yet how humble is the attitude expressed by so many of the Council Fathers, as we see in this particular case.  They fully accepted that the problems of the world would be best served, not merely by trying to devise immediate, tactical responses, but rather to place the Church on a proper course and to “inaugurate” strategic initiatives which might only bear fruit years later.

As we serve today, focused on the immediate needs of our people, do we also allow ourselves to be long-range thinkers and dreamers?  How might we “throw switches in the right direction” so that parishioners fifty or one hundred years from now will benefit, long after we are gone?  What will be the long-range implications of what we do today?  Certainly there are matters that cannot be left for the future: barbarism, terror and violence demand immediate attention!  And yet, in addition to thinking tactically, how might we also plan strategically?

???????????????????????????????????????

[1] The full interview may be found at Placid Jordan, OSB, “Interview with Cardinal Koenig,” in Council Daybook: Vatican II: Session 3, September 14 to November 21, 1964 (Washington, DC: National Catholic Welfare Conference, 1965), 181.  All quotations in this column are taken from that interview.

A Fresh Look at St. John XXIII

John XXIII by Mickey McGrathI don’t often review books, but here’s another pleasant exception!

I recently received a copy Brother Mickey McGrath’s new book on St. John XXIII, entitled Good Saint John XXIII: Quotes & Quips from the Prophet of Peace (Princeton: Clear Faith Publishing, 2014).  Once again, Mickey’s art dazzles and explodes exuberantly from each page.  There’s a wonderful introduction by Father Jim Martin which sets the stage very well.  Jim makes the point that Mickey’s art is always joyful, and this is so true — and also appropriate for this particular subject.

St. John XXIII was fond of a saying he found in Teilhard’s work, that “joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence.”  Joy filled St. John’s approach to the papacy, even during the darkest days dealing with wars, brinkmanship, illness and frustration.  Mickey captures all of this in his book, filled not only with “quotes and quips” from St. John himself, but by Pope Francis, St. Francis de Sales, and others: all through the lens of the man still known to millions as the “Good Pope John.”

I often give retreats based on the spirituality of St. John, and I will certainly be making use of Brother Mickey’s beautiful work (with his prior permission of course!).  I would encourage everyone to get at least one copy, because they will make great gifts as well.

Thanks, Mickey, and God bless!

The Point Remains: It’s “The Mass of Pius V”

francis elevation[Editorial Comment: I have prayed over what to do about this post.  I remain convinced that the overall point I want to make remains valid.  My mistake, for which I have apologized, was to specify a particular blogger (Father Zuhlsdorf) as being among those who make the mistake in question.  I stand by that apology.  I also stand by the fundamental thrust of my original posting; namely, that there are people who do associate the name of St. John XXIII inappropriately with the Mass of Pius V.  There is an appropriate and correct way to do that, since St. John DID promulgate an editio typica of the Mass of Pius V in 1962.  There are also inappropriate and incorrect ways of describing that reality as well, and THAT was the point I was trying to make.  So, I have edited the original posting to remove references to “Fr. Z” and still make the point I wished to make.]

I write this post with respect, although with an obvious and unapologetic sense of intellectual frustration.  Clearly the topic I want to explore is not a “Kingdom issue” or something that need be at the forefront of every person’s daily concerns!  However, for a lifelong Catholic like myself, a student of the Church and her liturgies, and someone for whom the Church as People of God, Mystical Body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit carries great significance, this is something that I think must be addressed. So, what is it?

It is the tendency of some commentators to refer to the 1962 editio typica of the Missale Romanum as “The Mass of St. John XXIII”.  I’m not sure why such an error is being made, and I don’t want to ascribe any motivation to something which may be nothing more than a simple error of fact.  It does seem, however, that this description of the Mass seems to be made most often by critics of the Mass of Paul VI, so perhaps it is their way of suggesting a contrasting hermeneutic of church and liturgical worship.  I don’t know.  Assuming that this is nothing more than a simple error, then, this post is offered as fraternal correction.

Here’s the deal.  As we all know, a wide variety of ancient liturgical texts developed.  These took a variety of forms and often varied widely from place to place.  There were also attempts over the years to consolidate or to unify liturgical practice in the Latin Church, often following the patterns used by the Church in Rome.  There are many good studies of all of this so there is no need to recount those details.  However, the custom of “naming” the Roman Missal is what concerns me here.

1896 Missale Romanum Title PageIn 1570, following the decisions of the great Council of Trent, Pope Pius V promulgated a new editio typica of the Roman Missal.  This became known, then, as the “Mass of Pius V.”  In fact, I have open on my desk at the moment an 1896 printing of the Roman Missal, and the title page states: “Missale Romanum, ex decreto sacrosancti concilii tridentini restitutum, S. Pii V Pontificis Maximi”.  Ah, “but Deacon, but Deacon,” you’re probably saying, “St. John XXIII came up with his own typical edition in 1962!”  Let’s continue, and all will be made clear.

Following that first typical edition of the so-called “Tridentine Mass”, many subsequent popes made changes to the Mass of Pius V, and some of these popes issued their own typical editions: Clement VIII in 1604, Urban VIII in 1634, Leo XIII in 1884, and Benedict XV (reflecting much of the work of his immediate predecessor, St. Pius X) in 1920.  In 1951, Pope Pius XII issued a number of significant changes to the Missal, especially involving Holy Week, but none of these changes were placed into a new typical edition.  Finally, in 1962, St. John XXIII published the last of these typical editions.  Now, here’s the point: at no point in all of this history did we as a Church change the attribution of the name of the Mass.  When Clement VIII issued his typical edition, we didn’t start calling it the “Mass of Clement VIII”; when Urban VIII issued his in 1634, we didn’t call it the “Mass of Urban VIII”; when Leo XIII issued his, we didn’t. . . , well, you get my point.  It was ALWAYS, even in 1962, referred to as the “Mass of Pius V.”

Want more proof?  Pope Paul VI issued the first typical edition of a post-conciliar Roman Missal in 1969 (although earlier changes had been made), and it became known as the “Mass of Paul VI.”  Then, he issued another typical edition in 1975, and it was still the “Mass of Paul VI.”  In 2002, St. John Paul II issued the third typical edition of — you guessed it, the “Mass of Paul VI.”  We didn’t start calling it the “Mass of St. John Paul II”, did we?  Of course not: it is still, to this day, the “Mass of Paul VI.”

Readers of the original version of this post have pointed out, of course, the very legitimate use of the term “Missal” to describe the various editions of the Mass; so, for example, one might refer to the “Missal of Urban VIII,” or the the “Missal of St. John XXIII.”  This is not my point, although I must say that I have yet to hear anyone refer to the current edition of the Roman Missal as “The Missal of St. John Paul II, either.  If one wishes to speak of the “Missal of St. John XXIII” wouldn’t we also speak of the “Missal of St. John Paul II”?

Pope Pius VAs I said at the outset, this is not an issue upon which the Reign of God depends.  I guess my real plea is to remind all of us that the Mass is that of Jesus Christ.  I would hope that, whichever Missal is being used for the full, conscious and active participation of the entire church, we seek clarity and unity with charity.  For those times when I have not practiced charity, I apologize to those who have been hurt.

God bless all who visit here.

St. John XXIII: His Prayer for Children

St. JohnBeing in Rome for the recent canonization of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II brought back many memories for me, especially about “the Good Pope John” as the Italians (and the world) referred to him.  Several years ago I was in St. Peter’s Basilica and wanted to pray at St. John’s tomb, which had been moved from the crypt below the papal altar to the Altar of St. Jerome in the main body of the Basilica.  There were only a handful of people in the Basilica, so I went to a security guard and asked him where Pope John was.  He nodded and escorted me to the spot.  As he turned to leave, he said, “Deacon, please pray for me and my family to the Good Pope John.”

I was only eight when St. John was elected and I was thirteen, and in high school seminary, when he died.  His papacy was to have a lasting effect on my own development and interests.  Always interested in the workings and teachings of the Second Vatican Council, I eventually earned my doctorate with a specialization in Ecclesiology precisely because of St. John and the Council.

ANSA-John23Hospital-255x318Anyway, I recently came across some old videos of St. John, including some scenes of him visiting sick children in the hospital on his first Christmas as pope (1958).  Behind the images is the audio of his conversation with the children and I was moved by his comments.  It was wonderful to hear them in his own voice and not simply in a written text.  If I can find a version of this video that is not copyrighted I will provide a link to it; for now, here’s my quick translation of the talk; his simplicity, spirituality and joy are all in evidence.

 “Do you know that when the pope prays the rosary, it is possible for him to remember the whole world?  For example, do you know at what point he remembers all the children?  Not just the Catholic children or the non-Catholic children but each and every living child?  When he gets to the Third Mystery, when Jesus is born, when he appears as a child, and the union between Divinity and humanity, between heaven and earth begins, I say those ten Ave Marias for all the children born in the 24 hours before I began to recite my rosary.  So, here’s a secret: every child as soon as it is born receives a prayer from the pope because I believe there is nothing as sweet in the family as the innocence of a child.  I believe it is right that that child be remembered by someone who represents the union of two souls: that of humanity with that of God, by someone  who always bears this in mind. ”

So simple.  So beautiful.  So powerful.

St. John XXIII, pray for us.

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. . . .