Sr. Joan Chittister: An American Catholic in Rome
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Posted April 7, 2005 at 8:09 a.m. CDT

Poignant and paradoxical
As millions mourn, life in the Italian cafés goes on

By Joan Chittister, OSB

Read Joan Chittister's weekly columns
Previous and current columns from An American Catholic in Rome

Adolescence or adulthood: which? Posted April 22, 2005 at 3:30 p.m. CDT
And he shall be called . . .  Posted April 20, 2005 at 4:30 p.m. CDT
I missed the smoke; I got the idea Posted April 19, 2005 at 10:00 a.m. CDT
Never mind the papabile, consider the papacy Posted April 17, 2005 at 3:30 p.m. CDT
The underside of the issue Posted April 16, 2005 at 4:10 p.m. CDT
Antigone or Ismene: The new choice Posted April 15, 2005 at 6:24 a.m. CDT
Win a couple, lose a couple Posted April 13, 2005 at 2:05 p.m. CDT
When demonstrations are not demonstrations Posted  
Posted April 12, 2005 at 11:56 a.m. CDT
The purpose of the interregnum Posted April 11, 2005 at 3:37 p.m. CDT
Be aware of Greeks bearing gifts
Posted April 10, 2005 at 10:42 a.m. CDT
He was the grandfather of their souls Posted April 8, 2005 at 10:21 a.m. CDT
Poignant and paradoxical Posted April 7, 2005 at 8:09 a.m. CDT

Two years ago this week, Sr. Chittister began writing a weekly Web column for NCR. Click on this link to read From Where I Stand by Sr. Joan Chittister.

The last time I sat in a foreign country with helicopters criss-crossing the skies over my head, I was in the Philippines in the middle of a coup. Today I am in Rome for the funeral of a pope. If I worried about security in the middle of a coup, it was nothing like the insecurity of the present moment.

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.

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In a way, of course, it’s the people sipping their campari, hugging their children, laughing with friends who may best reflect the whole of the present situation. The truth is that with us or without us, this new kind of world we’re living in goes on going on. There is neither virtue nor faith in trying to cling to the old world in order to avoid the insecurities of a new one.

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.

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