Today was kind of a slow day for Richard and I. We both needed to do some laundry and set out to do so after breakfast. As we got down the street, we became aware of a large police presence with many large, heavily equipped vans. The laundry place we decided on was closed so we decided to walk up the street to Santa Maria Maggiore as Richard had not seen it yet. I had already visited and gave you some impressions in my first post on the Rome trip under Singing in the Square. It was an interesting second visit. We walked from side chapel to side chapel. These large basilicas, and this one is probably the second largest one in Rome, are like religious malls with side chapels and alcoves with statues and icons in them. They are also busy places just like the local merchant mall. While we were there, so were many other tourists. It is hard to judge them but when a sign says No Photos, No Visits in front of a chapel as does the one where the Salus Popolo Romani icon is, shouldn’t that be respected especially if you are a visitor in someone else’s country? This icon, I found out on this visit, dates from the 8th to 9th century but originally was thought to be the work of St. Luke. It has been used for centuries in processions around Rome especially during adverse times like plagues and wars. Maybe we need to have that kind of procession today. We walked by another chapel, wrought iron door closed on it, where a young black priest was saying Mass, ad orientem with his back to his non-existent congregation. Richard, quite generous in his opinions of people, suggested maybe he was a young priest just learning to say Mass and maybe he was practicing it in Italian. With this visit I noticed an interesting and large sculpture of Mary…..not an oddity by any means in any church we have visited here so far as the Italians love their Mary and we were in a basilica dedicated to her. This one was quite a good sculpture but we could not find any attestation as to the sculptor. It was labeled Ave Regina Pace, Hail Queen of Peace. What struck me was the pose of Mary. Jesus was depicted as a three to four year old toddler standing on her lap. Mary’s head was bowed and she had a very stern look on her face. Her left hand was extended out, hand up, palm out much as a traffic cop stops traffic. I commented to Richard that the Queen of Peace was making a statement to the world “Stop the war, Stop the violence.” She must be a popular stop for people as there was a stand of fresh flowers by her.
By the time we completed our visit to the basilica and to a store for some lunch things, the cheapest way to eat lunch, the laundromat was open. It is a good thing that Richard and I have been comfortable traveling with each other as we joined up the laundry to make a load of whites and one of darks. When we approached the laundry, we noticed that the cops we had passed earlier down the street were all lined up across the street, using their vans to block the street and were dressed in full riot gear. When we questioned some folks, we were told that all the businesses had been told to close. Evidently the laundry was not too worried. After we got the wash going, we then began to get the first indications of what was up. A large demonstration came down the street with an advance truck of large speakers playing a rap style of music. This was followed by the chanting crowds, all young people. The first group was carrying a banner that said “The Good School is Us”. One of the laundry guys had a little skill in English so between that and my so so or “un po”, a little, Italian I was able to find out that there is a proposal before the Italian parliament to privatize all the universities. These kids were protesting that as they know that it will put an education beyond their financial means. It was a big demonstration but orderly. There was a large police presence including helicopters overhead. I went out to watch them all walk by and felt the kind of energy in the group that I experienced as a young college kid protesting the Vietnam war. I am not sure where they were headed but it took about 45 minutes for them all to pass. I am guessing they went down to the large Victor Immanuel Square or the Colliseum, both of which are just down the street and provide a large venue where lots of people can congregate. In my observations, it was a modern-day procession and I do believe it would have been quite appropriate for Salus Popolo Romani to have been on the shoulders of these young folks, the future of any country, the health of an country for that future.
We spent the rest of our day having our lunch in the lovely garden at the convent from the stuff I had purchase at the grocery store. We even had fresh lime from the lime trees in the garden. Richard and I had a wide-ranging chat on church affairs and the Synod in particular, which both of us seem to excel in, until he was beginning to look like a nap was in his immediate future. The Synod has moved ahead according to what I think Francis had in mind. I will be posting an interesting article I came across in a few minutes. The cardinals and bishops have opened up and begun good discussions just as Francis had asked them to do the first day. He sets the tone in that he appeared from the first (and only) day’s video quite relaxed, confident and open. He is at the door every morning greeting everyone as they come in. He also joins in conversations during the coffee breaks. He is setting the tone as servant but leader, first among equals. Today one news clip said they shared stories of what their own families were like. I don’t know for sure but I would bet that was something Francis initiated himself. He loves to tell stories of his own family life. Since I needed to check out the train schedule for the next leg of my adventure beginning Monday, after lunch Richard and I both went back to our rooms. All in all, it was a very relaxed but interesting day.