|Sr. Joan Chittister: An American Catholic in Rome|
Posted April 7, 2005 at 8:09 a.m. CDT
As millions mourn, life in the Italian cafés goes on
By Joan Chittister, OSB
There are over 6,000 extra police on guard in Rome right now to handle at least 2 million people and all the foreign dignitaries those people bring with them. It is a police chief’s nightmare. You figure it out: That’s about one policeman for every 250 people.
Italians aren’t given to worrying about air attacks but they do worry about crowd control. Right now, they know that there are too many people waiting to pass the papal bier for the amount of viewing time left, so last night they drew the barriers behind the present crowd and are turning late-comers away.
People are now standing in two lines–one along the Tiber River, the other down the little side streets around St. Peters–trying to inch their way down the broad boulevard that leads into St. Peter’s Square and from there into the basilica itself for a 10-second pass around the body of the recently deceased Pope John Paul II.
There is something very touching about the crowd scene but there is also something paradoxical about it, as well–as paradoxical as the rest of this papacy, perhaps. While 2 million people from around the world press into St. Peter’s to see the only pope many of them have ever known, within a block of the line Italians lounge in outdoor cafes as if nothing whatsoever were going on. They hardly seem to notice that something is happening here, neither the end of one church era nor the transition to another. Clearly, the lines have not blended into the fabric of the city. And therein lies the conundrum facing a new papacy.
It is time to engage again with the world as it is, not as a church in contention with it but as a church with the faith to believe that the things we fear now about science and government and globalism, about lay participation and collegiality and women, can become the stuff of a new kind of Christian sanctity at a new moment in history.
To have a transition going on in the church that does not also touch the world around it, is to have only public spectacle, not social transformation.
Without that kind of commitment, there is no reason to be part of this at all. The police know it; the helicopter pilots know it, the Italians on the street from a culture older even than the church, know it–and, deep down, inside the insecurities from which no police, no helicopters can save us, we know it, too.
© 2005 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115
E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111
TEL: 1-816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280