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American Justice and Divine Mercy

With guests in town since Holy Thursday, we had done the liturgical marathon of the papal Triduum, including the Eucharistic adoration pilgrimage, and on Easter Monday set out for Florence. We stayed there a couple of nights, then to Assisi for a couple nights, and returned to Rome on Friday along with growing crowds of pilgrims and tourists: Little time to prepare for the next spiritual marathon, with the events surrounding the beatification of Pope John Paul II.

To give a sense of it, I left the Lay Centre at 11:00am Saturday morning, and returned for only an hour-long nap and a shower before really returning at 11:30pm Sunday night. I then had to be at the Angelicum by 9:00am Monday. My voice disappeared last night and is yet to be seen or heard. I made up for all this with a four-hour nap this afternoon.  (I am collecting stories from other students in the Lay Centre and around Rome, and am typing up my own for a post soon to come. )

This morning, while showing Professor Israel Knohl around the University, we passed a classroom where we heard applause – I assumed a seminar presentation had just finished. The only words I heard come out through the window were, “President Obama…”

“That’s funny,” I chuckled (sotto voce) to Professor Knohl, “You do not expect to hear the U.S. president’s name in a Roman university classroom – that is a first for me!”

“Ah, because of Osama.” Then, in response to my questioning look, “They got him last night. They killed him.”

And that is how I found out about American justice being served on the Sunday called Divine Mercy by the pope who was being beatified on that very day.

I had not had time to check news or mail much in the last dozen days, and none at all in the last 48 hours.

My first reaction was that the timing is interesting. As I said above, American justice served out on Divine Mercy Sunday; The coincidence of three news events, each treated in order of growing importance – the royal wedding, beatification, and killing of bin Laden all on one weekend; the fact that the day before, my guests (whose time in rome seems to have coincided exactly with the final stages of presidential preparation to go into the compound) and I having just had a conversation about how we have heard nothing from or about Osama bin Laden in months. Also interesting given that JPII and the Catholic Church were so clearly opposed to the second Iraq War, a point made during the Vigil on Saturday night.

While some friends and classmates began to celebrate (there was applause in the Angelicum remember, and I know of a priest who publicly stated it was good to celebrate Osama’s death), I kept thinking that our CIA and SEALs did exactly what they are trained to do – and what they are deservedly respected for – executing with extreme prejudice. They served justice, but there was no room for mercy, whether that was the intended result or not (and until we hear otherwise, I assume that it was the intent to capture if possible – but the worry that it was not remains).

I am glad it is over, but do not rejoice in the killing of a man, no matter how heinous his actions or warped his view of the world and of his own faith. He was no more a Muslim than Hitler was a Christian, because he did not submit to God. On that i am certain, though i claim no great expertise in Islam. I wonder what divine mercy is like for one such as he? (What is divine mercy like for one such as me?)

Incidentally, as far as I am aware, the preference for Muslims is to buried in the ground, but burial at sea is allowed for various reasons, including fear of desecration of the body – which would seem to be a reasonable fear in this instance – so the choice made was respectful of Islamic practice (even if bin Laden himself was certainly not!)

This afternoon, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., released the following declaration on the news regarding the death of Osama Bin Laden:

  “Osama Bin Laden, as is known, claimed responsibility for grave acts that spread division and hate among the peoples, manipulating religion to that end. A Christian never takes pleasure from the fact of a man’s death, but sees it as an opportunity to reflect on each person’s responsibility, before God and humanity, and to hope and commit oneself to seeing that no event become another occasion to disseminate hate but rather to foster peace”.

Beatification debriefing in brief

New image of the newly Blessed

This morning I have already begun to hear stories of people’s experience here in Rome for the beatification, from one being interviewed by CNN in the middle of Piazza San Pietro, to others who gave up trying to get within a kilometer of the Vatican, and still others who deliberately skipped town to avoid the chaos and the crowd.

The Beatification Mass began at 10:00am Sunday, with an hour-long rosary and divine mercy chaplet planed ahead of time.

Vatican security had cleared the Piazza at 7:00pm Saturday night, though people had already staked places and laid out sleeping pads on the cobblestones around the square. They were moved back beyond a large perimeter. We saw nearly every law enforcement agency available in the city – Policia Municipale, Guarda di Finanza, Carabinieri, Corpo Forestale, Polizia di Stato, et al.

One friend was at the perimeter by 1:00am Sunday, and she made it no closer to the altar than the obelisk in the centre of the piazza. Others arrived at 4:00am and were never able to get into the square. The gates officially opened at 5:30am, allowing people into Piazza San Pietro and Via della Conciliazione. By 6:15am, people were packed up to Castel Sant’Angelo. We followed a group of bishops into the crowd, only to be turned back on the close side of the castle – even the bishops could not get through.

Even in lateral directions the area around the Vatican was packed – I have not yet seen an aerial photo that was able to capture the whole scene of people-packed streets, I do not know if any of the helicopters were high enough to get that wide a view.

The 5.7 acres of Piazza San Pietro hold only a fraction of the people who came to Rome for the beatification

Some people decided to bail, and go somewhere they could be less crowded and watch it on a jumbotron – the city had a dozen such locations set up, including the Cathedral of San Giovanni in Laterano and the Circo Massimo. Others continued to push in, but never made it close. We found shade and refreshment under the umbrellas of a café’s outdoor seating area, with an oblique view of a jumbotron at Piazza Risorgimento, with no audio but a pilgrims radio tuned to a station translating the whole thing into Polish.

We spent almost two hours in a line to get a cappuccino and cornetto, and then go to the bathroom, once it was decided there was no where better to go unless we wanted to bail and watch at one of the other centers around the city. We got out just in time for mass to start, and stood (thankfully in the shade with tables to put our things on), for the entire 3 hour liturgy and angelus address. Even the English reading was translated into polish on the radio, so I could only relay the parts of the mass as I saw from the partial view of the screen and from the singing in Latin.

I am glad I was here for an historic event, grateful to be in a place with shade and with a friend, but sorry that, given the exhaustion of staying up all night after the vigil that we did not get closer than we did. But, I never thought I would get as close as we did, either. For his canonization, which I expect this time next year, I think the view from San Giovanni in Laterano sounds pretty good – especially for a pope who repeatedly said his role as bishop of Rome, along with Servant of the Servants of God, was the most important responsibility of the pope.

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