I returned to Rome on Friday, making almost perfectly timed connections back to Rome from Fiumalbo in the northern Apennines where I had spent 4 days. The trip back began with standing along the road outside the wonderful hotel I stayed in to flag the bus down at 6 a.m. It was raining quite hard. The bus is also the one that picks up many high school students to take them to school in Pavulo, 40 miles every day, one way. If you read my post on getting to this town of Fiumalbo, now imagine the trip back down, and I do mean down, in the dark, in the rain with the bus filling up with teenagers. I was the oldest person on the bus. The driver seemed to know every last kid but that only made it surprise me more how fast he was going down the mountain. I started imagining this in the winter. This road had those poles along the way to let the snow plow know where the edge of the road is. The poles were over 5 feet tall. Can’t imagine the trip to school on a day when it is snowing.
Back in Rome has been interesting to say the least. The folks I am working with in Catholic Church Reform International have been following the proceedings of the Extraordinary
Synod of Bishops closely, even to the point of attending the daily press briefings at the Salla Stampa, the Vatican press office. They managed to get press passes that got them in. On Saturday, I decided to join them even though I knew I would have to wait outside. This was the day that the Vatican was to begin releasing the final documents for the Synod. As I waited outside, I noted that the journalists would go in prior to the meeting, then come out and pace and smoke, doing this repeatedly. The tension was palpable. A lot was riding on Francis’ papacy with what this Synod was doing and the last few days had not been good with a very conservative group of bishops trying to control the movement of the Synod. A very progressive mid-term report had been issued last Monday that set the traditionalist factions in the church into a veritable tizzy. Their main spokesperson was Cardinal Raymond Burke. Francis had set the tone from the beginning of transparency and openness, urging all the bishops to speak their minds. He got what he wanted but all reports coming out seemed to indicate chaos going on inside the meeting hall. Many were asking why Francis did not intervene. He was reported to have been sitting calmly listening, taking an occasional note and then mingling with everybody, cardinals, bishops, lay people during the coffee breaks. If he had intervened it would have defeated what he wanted this Synod to do which was to work with collegiality. If he had spoken, they would have all dutifully said “Yes, Holy Father” as that is what they have done for the past 35 years under John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He has said “When you set out on a mission you do not set out with defeat in mind.” But as the days passed since that mid-term report, which took a very positive stance towards the divorced and remarried being allowed to receive the sacraments and toward the LGBT members of the church, welcoming the good that they have and recognizing that some of them are in relationships that are truly loving, it seemed that the traditionalists were going to set the agenda of what would be talked about in the Ordinary Synod next fall. The comments coming into blogs that were reporting on the Synod had grown downright nasty towards Francis, stating that the traditionalist church was going to work to remove him from office and that they would bring the church to her knees by pulling their funding. Yet, Francis remained calm and centered. The first press conference on Friday just released a message to the people, not the final document. It was neither fish nor fowl, just an almost bland statement. But while I waited outside, I introduced myself to John Allen when he came out to smoke and engaged with him in conversation for about 10 minutes prior to the start of the press conference just seeing what he thought about it all. His take was that the Synod was not going to produce anything earth-shattering with this session but it was an exercise in teaching the bishops what collegiality was really all about. Also as I stood there, I watched many of the major figures of the Synod walk by such as Cardinal Ravasi, Fr Frederico Lombardi, the Vatican press secretary coming and going and even Cardinal Burke passed by as we waited for he second press conference in the evening after the Synod had voted on the final document. He does not look like a happy man. Between the sessions, Rene Reid and Janet Hauter and I went to lunch with the reporter Robert Mickens who has been working with Catholic Church Reform International helping us to gain some perspective of what it is like to try to interact with the Vatican. A former reporter for the Tablet, he now does pieces for National Catholic Reporter and has recently launched a new website, Global Pulse, in conjunction with various other news agencies from Europe. We had an interesting two hour conversation at lunch. He was of the opinion that Pope Francis was going to succeed at what he wanted to do at this Synod and that all the noise that the traditionalist church was making was just that, noise. We were going to find out after the evening session. The final document was to be released. Pope Francis requested that the document, which is a series of paragraphs, one for each item that the bishops want to work on in the next session, be published for all the church to see and it should include the vote tallies that were done on each paragraph. Three paragraphs did not receive the requisite 2/3 majority to qualify to be in the document but Pope Francis mandated those paragraphs remain. They are the paragraphs on the divorced and remarried and the one on pastoring to the LGBGT community. The document is not yet available in English or I would include a link. I will include a link here to Pope Francis’ final speech which was inspiring and hopeful to say the least and got him a 5 minute standing ovation from the entire Synod. This translation and one other English translation were the only ones I could find and they both left out an off the cuff remark he made at the end of this paragraph:
“And, as I have dared to tell you , [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.”
What he said after the above sentence was “I am the Pope and I am here!” So, I think John Allen’s take on the Synod is not quite right. I think Pope did achieve all that he planned.
Wording from the document that I have been able to find is very good, very pastoral, showing a church with wide open doors. I think Pope Franics knows that he achieved almost all he had planned. Note that in the above speech he talks about a year for this to mature. I don’t think he is going to back down on the issues of good pastoral practice, worded so that those who feel left out i.e. the divorced and remarried and those in the LGBT community, can finally feel at home in the church. I watched the closing Mass in the Piazza San Pietro today on youtube. He just had a bit more spring, almost a bit of a swagger in his step, even if he is a humble man. He did a good job with this Synod, but he will say it was a journey they all took. As soon as I find an English translation of the final document posted, I will post a link on the website for you to read it yourself.
So tomorrow is my last day in Rome. I haven’t finalized what I will do. I may just stroll around a bit. I have finally figured out the bus system so I can get to places by myself. When Richard was here, I followed along with his mass transit plans, taking the train. I was not confident without the guru along to do the trains. I would like to go one more time to the Piazza San Pietro, It is an interesting place. It evokes interesting reactions in people. It was full dark when I left it on Saturday evening after the final press conference. It is actually its most striking in the night. As I walked down the main street leading away, I noticed a man sitting up on the pediment of one of the large street lamps along this street. He was barefoot, had his feet pulled up to his body sitting in a squat and was in a transfixed stare looking at the basilica. It is a great place to people watch. On Saturday, there were hordes of people around. The line to get into the basilica started all the way back around one colonnade ending at at the basilica and snaked all the way around to the other colonnade just to get into it. My reaction to the place is this: How the heck did Pope Francis, such a simple man (although I see a complex side as he showed in working this Synod), one who has no aspiration to power, wind up in this place that seems to be a strong symbol of power? The place is so not Francis. He even admitted to something similar when a friend in Argentina asked him if he had gotten in trouble for not wearing the red slippers and the red mozetta, the red velvet cape lined with ermine. He said back “Oh come on. You know me. That stuff is just not me.” I am not sure that the kind of church the Vatican seems to represent is me either but I have great hopes that this humble, but clever man is going to make a difference.
So keep me all in your prayers as I journey back home. I am ready to do that after 21 days in Italy. Don’t get me wrong. I loved it here….except the weather in Rome which was hot and muggy. Yet even muggy, hot Rome has its charm this evening as I listen to someone playing an accordion, then violin and then singing the schmaltzy Italian songs outside of outdoor cafes through my open hotel window. I would love to spend a longer time here. But 21 days of living out of a suitcase has gotten a bit old, washing out things in the sink and sleeping in strange beds without my own collection of pillows has lost its charm, if it had any to begin with. When asked why he does not like to travel by one interviewer on the plane coming back form one of his trips, Pope Francis replied that he is too attached to his “habitat”. I had this image of him with his favorite “blankie” and “piddow” and napping in a recliner. I can relate….I think I am also attached to my habitat and I am certainly ready from my very own “blankie” and “piddow”.