A Roman Pilgrimage in Honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Thomas A. Droleskey
[The article below is the first installment of a series of articles summarizing our recent pilgrimage to Rome, which was meant to include a trip to the Czech Republic to speak in behalf of Christ the King College. As will be discovered in a subsequent installment in this series (which will appear irregularly, depending on when time permits their writing and posting), the trip to Prague had to be canceled as a result of illnesses and maladies that afflicted us while we were in Rome, thus necessitating an earlier return to the United States of America.
[As I noted in a brief posting on this site's home page on May 30, 2005, the pilgrimage to Rome was funded as a result of specific contributions that were made for this purpose by several individuals. We could not otherwise have considered going to Rome. We will not be going anywhere outside of this country in the near future, if at all. Our pending speaking tour across the United States in our motor home will be funded by means of the book sales generated along the way. None of our trips, as will be revealed below, is without a great deal of penitential offerings, continuing my own experiences as a single man in the days that I drove across the country. Some of the earlier misadventures have been chronicled in There Is No Cure for This Condition (which is still available from Chartres Communications, $7.00 per book). The trip to Rome was both prayerful and penitential, fortifying us spiritually to continue our work to plant seeds for the restoration of the Social Reign of Christ the King and of the Traditional Latin Mass as normative in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church as the fruit of the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
[This travelogue has been written principally with my daughter in mind. Although she has an excellent memory for a thirty-eight month old child, some of the details of the trip may fade over the course of time. I want to provide her with something of a permanent record of the pilgrimage, sharing this travelogue with the readers of this site who might have the interest in the topic. If you don't like personal travelogues that are spiced with some supernatural comments you might as well move it along. There's nothing here of interest for you!]
The Importance of Pilgrimages for a Catholic
Catholics have been making pilgrimages for centuries upon centuries. The recent revival of this wonderful penitential practice has spread throughout the traditional Catholic world. Two different pilgrimages, one from Notre Dame in Paris to Notre Dame in Chartres and the other from Notre Dame in Chartres to Notre Dame in Paris, run seventy-two miles on the Saturday before Whit-Sunday, Whit-Sunday itself, and Whit-Monday. The Pilgrimage for Restoration, sponsored by the National Coalition for the Clergy and the Laity, runs about sixty-five miles from the Lake of the Blessed Sacrament (Lake George) through the rugged Adirondacks down to the Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda, New York. before a final seven mile walk on a Saturday in late September to honor Our Lady of the North American Martyrs. That particular pilgrimage ends with a Solemn High Mass offered with exquisite perfection by Father Edmund Castronovo. The Society of Saint Pius X sponsors its own Auriesville Pilgrimage in June each year. Members of the Society have sponsored pilgrimages in different parts of the nation, including a twelve mile walk outside of Saint Louis, Missouri. There are many others in this country and elsewhere.
One does not have to go on a pilgrimage that is sponsored by a group or a religious community. Any person or any family can make a private pilgrimage in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This is what we did from May 9-25, 2005, as we traveled to the seat of the Catholic Family, Rome, Italy, for a pilgrimage that was supposed to take us on to Prague in the Czech Republic for a speaking appearance in behalf of Christ the King College. Events intervened to truncate our travels. However, we are indeed very grateful to the several individuals who responded to personal appeals I had made to them to fund the trip. Although I had been to Rome on five other occasions between 1984 and 1996, this recent trip was memorable because it was the first I had made as one who had made a commitment to the fullness of our glorious Tradition without compromise. Seeing things through the eyes of Tradition does indeed give one a different perspective.
Catholics are supposed to embrace every opportunity sent to them by Our Lady to do penance. Each of us is a sinner who is in need of making reparation for his own sins and those of his own world. It is the case today that air travel, in particular, involves all manner of extraordinary penances and humiliations that we can offer freely to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart as her consecrated slaves. Our own trip to and from Rome was full of such penitential experiences, starting with the flight on May 9 from Los Angeles to Paris, where we caught a connecting flight to Rome.
I Just Want Some Ice, Please!
Let me stipulate that I hate flying. No, not because I fear flying. Death will come to us at the time God has appointed for us from all eternity. It is always wise to make a good Confession before getting on a plane. Apart from that, though, there is nothing we can do if a plane goes down or is flown into a building while we on it.
No, my own hatred of flying today involves the endless security checks, usually conducted on elderly grandmothers in wheelchairs, the immodesty and rudeness of other travelers (which is a particular concern when one is traveling with a young child), and the crampt conditions of flying in the airline equivalent of the steerage compartment of the old trans-Atlantic passenger steamships. If I was independently wealthy I would put our motor home on a freighter and sail over to Europe, if that is, we had a traditional priest available to offer Mass for us on the ship every day. Flying is a real penance. Our trip to Rome on May 9 marked the first time in nearly two years that we had flown. Ugh, kimosabi.
Father Paul Sretenovic was good enough to drive us from our motor home park to Los Angeles International Airport on May 9. I thought that arriving three hours before flight time would have placed us at the head of the line to check-in for the flight. I was wrong. Hordes of people, most of them sporting tattoos and some kind of body piercing, were ahead of us at the Air France check-in area. All to the Immaculate Heart of Mary as we prayed the Rosary audibly to the consternation of many around us. Thus, we waited and waited and waited.
Surprisingly, the check-in went smoothly and none of us were required to take our shoes off or to be otherwise body-searched as we went through the first security checkpoint. All we had to do was to proceed to the gate and await the plane. En route to the gate we picked up some food at a California Pizza Kitchen, paying the usual extortionist prices that are charged by restaurant franchises in airports. The franchises have to pay rent to the various governmental authorities that run airports. Said rent is used to pay the high salaries of the political appointees who hold needless jobs in these airport authorities. Thus, the cost of food is outrageously expensive. I said to myself as I paid the bill, "Oh, I think we should go home now. Let's call Father Sretenovic and be done with this." I am, you see, a most reluctant practitioner of these kinds of penances. However, I kept that thought to myself, knowing that our dear, dear daughter was looking forward to going to Rome ("We're going to see Papa Benedetto," she told a waitress at a restaurant where we had breakfast that morning) and to seeing her beloved cousins, the children of my wife's only Catholic sister and our brother-in-law, who would be arriving in Rome following the Chartres Pilgrimage.
A good deal of the time prior to boarding the plane was spent with my fighting with Verizon Wireless over a global cellular phone that was supposed to be delivered by 10:30 a.m. on May 9. It did not arrive. The order, which had been placed on May 6 and guaranteed for delivery on May 9, was not shipped until that day, May 9. It was all I could do to explain to them that the phone, which was to be used in Europe to keep up with Christ the King College business, would be useless to me if I got it after our return from Europe. It took about ten minutes of frequently not very patient explanation on my part (repeating myself over and over again is not one of my strong points; my particular nature is, after all, that of an impatient New Yorker) to get several people to understand that a phone arriving in Orange County, California, on May 10 would do me no good at the precise time we would be arriving in our rental apartment in Rome, Italy. A refund, though, could not be issued for two to three weeks (and was delayed further upon our return until I fought with enough people to make it clear that it was owed to me). Having already found at the currency exchange booth at the Los Angeles International Airport that American dollars shrink considerably when converted in Euros, the loss of the funds from the telephone fiasco was not going to be helpful, humanly speaking, when we were in Europe. All to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Lucy Mary Norma eagerly awaited boarding the plane, which had been delayed en route to Los Angeles from Paris. One of the benefits of traveling with small children is that a family can be pre-boarded ahead of the other cattle waiting to be seated in the flying cattle car. Once seated, though, I knew that we were in for a long, long haul. We were on that plane for about ten and one-half hours between the time we boarded it and the time we got off in Paris. The longest series of flights I ever took was from New York to Los Angeles to Manila in August of 1991. Still and all, ten and one-half hours is a long time.
Fortunately, Lucy is an excellent little traveler. She travels so well in the motor home when we are on the road (as we will be in a little over four weeks). She has always proven herself to be quite a trouper as an airline passenger. This time was no exception. She was fascinated by the progressive display of the flight's path, shown on a monitor on the seat-back in front of her. That monitor was on during most of the flight, save for the four or five hours during which she slept soundly. Her devoted mother and my wonderful wife got a bit of sleep as well. I found, however, that I can no longer sleep on airplanes. And given the fact that my eyesight has really deteriorated to the point that my "progressive" lenses no longer help me read small print, reading was out of the question. My time was spent praying and looking at that little monitor. "Won't we ever get across Hudson's Bay?" I muttered to myself.
I realized that I would not be able to continue to consume mass quantities of iced tea while in Europe. Indeed, iced tea is hard to find north of our border in the communist confines of Canada. Diet soda is my back-up drink of choice. The French cabin attendants were very miserly in the distribution of the plane's supply of diet soda, which is generally available by the cans onboard domestic airline flights in the United States. I was given quite a dirty look when I asked a cabin attendant for more soda. I had been given my quotient, the dirty look explained to me. I would have to make do with what they gave me. And I was thought to be positively delirious when I asked for more ice. For even though I am indeed a critic of the American founding, I am nevertheless an American citizen. I like ice! I eat ice! I have eaten ice since I was a little boy! I like lots of ice in everything I drink (water, iced tea, soda, tomato juice). Even though we were still in the Paschal season on May 9 and 10, Lent had descended once more: I would have make do without ice for sixteen long days. Europeans do not understand the American love affair with ice. C'est la vie. All to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
It was apparent midway through the long flight that I was going to get very, very sick from the recirculated air. My resistance was probably pretty low as a result of recording thirty hours of lectures for my Politics III course offered by Christ the King College in fifteen days, a process that ended several days before our departure. I knew that I was going to get a really good sore throat and cold, which degenerated ultimately into both laryngitis and bronchitis, soon thereafter, which proved to be the case. The debilitation that occurred as a result of the illness I felt developing while on the plane played a major role in the decision six days later to cancel the trip to Prague: I had lost my voice and was coughing as though I had some form of emphysema. It was not too long thereafter that I gifted first my daughter and then my wife with this malady. My wife has still not recovered fully from her own share in this particular series of illnesses.
We had a view of absolutely nothing, sitting in the middle seats of a Boeing 777. The only thing we could see was that little monitor, which showed the plane creeping over the Atlantic and finally crossing over the Emerald Isle of my wife's ancestry. We prayed to all of the Irish saints we could remember (Patrick, Bridget, Columba, Columban, Kevin, Coleman, Brian, Brendan) as we prayed over the island of saints. Although about an hour behind schedule, the plane landed in Paris, whereupon the cattle had to be ushered off of the plane and onto a bus to take us all to the terminal. "What, no jetway at DeGaulle Airport?"
The Cruel Incompetency of the Freemasons Who Run France
That's right, a plane full of people was loaded into a series of buses to take us to a terminal, whereupon we had to present our passports and exit security. No information was provided passengers making connecting flights how to get from terminal to terminal. Although my brother-in-law, Benoit Turpin, who is French, told us that there is a way to walk from Terminal 2-C to Terminal 2-F (and vice versa), the airport officials won't give out this information. My wife Sharon, who has been to France a number of times over the years, explained that the socialist French want everyone to behave collectively, frowning upon individuals who seek out alternatives to what has been decided is in their best interests. We thus had to struggle to find our way to a shuttle bus that moved ever so slowly to the terminal from which we would board our flight, operated by Alitalia for Air France (got that?), from Paris to Rome. And once at Terminal 2-F we had to go through security one more time, prompting me to ask out loud, "Hey, can't you folks keep passengers who are traveling internationally in a secured area? Better yet, can't you land planes at one terminal so as to make it more convenient for passengers connecting to other flights to do so without being rushed?" Common sense was not something I found in great supply at DeGaulle Airport. Then the thought occurred to me: the fruit of the French Revolution, which was a revolution against the Deposit of Faith and everything contained therein, is illogic and positivism. Things are not supposed to make sense as those in charge have lost the capacity to think as Catholics and thus to plan things for the greater honor and glory of God supernaturally and for the ease of movement of passengers on the natural level. The Freemasons of France are both cruel and incompetent.
We had enough time to make our flight to Rome after arriving in Paris, quite the opposite of what we would experienced fifteen days later upon our return as we frantically endeavored to make the flight from Paris to Los Angeles after arriving back from Rome. Once again, however, passengers were placed on a bus to be taken to the airplane. Charles DeGaulle Airport replaced Orly Airport as the principal port-of-call for international flights when it opened in the 1980s. The lack of jetways for passengers to embark and debark their flights was truly astounding, "This place makes John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York look quite modern and convenient by comparison," I told Sharon. (As any New Yorker can tell you, JFK Airport is a pit that is always undergoing some sort of re-construction project to keep the coffers at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey filled with Federal grant monies.)
The flight to Rome itself, though, was uneventful and mercifully short, a little over two hours in length once we got off the ground. We had a nice view of the Mediterranean as we landed at Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Fiumicino about twenty-five miles east of Rome proper. As were tired from having been up at that point for twenty-five hours, all we wanted to do was to get our bags and meet the driver who was supposed to take us to our rental apartment. It was in God's Holy Providence, however, for our bags to be among the last unloaded. A little additional time was spent looking for the stroller that had been given us by friends in southern California. The stroller had been checked in Los Angeles with the rest of the luggage, making its way to a separate place in the baggage claim area than the rest of the luggage. That stroller, which was ultimately named "Penance" by the Turpin girls, Lucy's cousins, was to prove the source of quite some offerings in the ensuing days. It resides at present quite unsentimentally on the ladder on the outside rear of our motor home waiting for someone to steal it.
Taking Possession of a Possessed Apartment
I am not a linguist. There is an old joke that goes this way: What do you a person who can speak two languages? Bi-lingual. What do you call a person who speaks three languages? Tri-lingual. What do you call a person who speaks more than three languages? Multi-lingual. What do you call a person who speaks one language? An American. That's me. Oh, I can read French and I know enough words to get by speaking in a most grammatically incorrect manner. And while I have been to Italy enough to pick up words and phrases I am still the ugly American who struggles to put several comprehensible words together in the Italian language. It was a good thing, therefore, that the driver who met us had the address at which our rental apartment was located. I would never have been able to communicate it to him, not in a thousand years. Our real Roman misadventures began as soon as the driver dropped us off at Via Andrea Doria 79, which is near the Cipro Metro Station on Linea A of the Rome subway system.
My brother-in-law, who has made six Chartres Pilgrimages in a row, recommended to me some outfit called "Rome Reservation" to find an apartment to rent during our stay. It was originally our intention to leave Rome on May 23 for Prague and then return to Rome on May 29 prior to our scheduled return to the United States on May 31. Thus, we had rented the apartment at Via Andrea Dora 79 for one thirteen day stay and another two day stay. It was my belief, proved to be mistaken, that the "down payment" I had made to Rome Reservation was to be applied to the rent for the apartment. That "down payment," though, turned out to be a non-refundable commission. It was beginning to look as though we had made a monstrous mistake, humanly speaking, of renting an apartment sight unseen. That conclusion was solidified once the middle-man in the deal arrived to show me to the apartment, which was located five flights of stairs up from the ground. Oh, the last thing I wanted to do after a long flight was to walk up steep, steep stairs with heavy bags. "This is going to be a penitential stay," I told myself as I walked up with the first load. It turns out that I wasn't just a whistlin' Dixie. Further penance awaited me once I entered the apartment.
As I knew nothing about the apartment, thinking that some real-estate magnate had otherwise vacant apartments to rent to foreign tourists, I was shocked to find out that the apartment belonged to a man who vacated it in order to make some quick Euros off of foreign tourists. We staying in some stranger's house! And this stranger, whom I did not meet until about an hour later, had all sorts of demonic symbols all over his apartment. The first thing I did was to take towels to cover the man's washing machine, which was adorned with terribly sick decals. "The man's a surfer," said Michele, the intermediary who spoke English and whose own apartment about three quarters of a mile away would be rented out to the Turpins upon their arrival eight days later. Further demonic symbols that had escaped my original detection were discovered by my wife after she had gone up to the apartment with Lucy. This prompted me to tell Michele that we could not continue to stay in the apartment beyond one night. We were tired. I was sick and tired. However, we don't play games with our souls or that of our innocent little daughter.
Michele was confused. Although a nominal Catholic he had never heard anyone raise such objections before. He wanted to accommodate us, even going so far as to refund the monies I had just paid him. He then telephoned the owner of the apartment, a man who arrived a short while later. Speaking little English the man used Michele as an interpreter. I did the same. Both men were utterly mystified when I explained to them that demonic symbols invite the demons into the abodes where they are placed. About an hour of interpretation of Catholic apologetics got us nowhere. It was agreed, however, that we would be permitted to find another place to stay. We wound up doing a good deal of re-decorating in our rented apartment and asperging it liberally with Holy Water each and every night of our stay. However, I really do believe that one of the reasons each of us got so physically sick in Rome--and that poor Lucy was felled with a horribly painful rash and an ear infection that caused her to be taken to Bambino Gesu Hospital on Saturday, May 21, 2005--was that we stayed in this demonically infested apartment. It would have been better to leave. Having made the trip on donated funds and budgeting it very, very tightly to fit within those funds we could ill afford to move to some other place. We were stuck, thus returning the monies to Michele, the intermediary, that had been refunded upon our initial complaint. Here's a tip for you travelers to Rome: don't ever rent somebody's apartment! Stay in a reputable hotel!
Although the apartment was a nightmare (and lacked air conditioning, which contributed to Lucy's rash), it was located in a real taste of Roman life. An open-air market that ran for blocks was located just outside of the courtyard of the apartment complex where we lived for fifteen days and nights. Unlike the chemically treated and grown food that is sold in our own grocery stores here in the United States, the produce in the open-air market was fresh and wholesome. It was wonderful. As Sharon, who made scrambled eggs for Lucy almost every morning of our stay, said, "The eggshells are hard to crack, just like they used to be in our country when I was a little girl. Eggshells have gotten softer because of all of the additives put in the grain that is fed to the hens." True enough. And sight of all sights, Roman women lined up to buy fresh fish, caught in the Mediterranean Sea, on Fridays, proving that there is still something of the sensus Catholicus left in the Eternal City despite the best efforts of the Masonic revolutionaries of the Italian civil state and the liturgical and doctrinal revolutionaries within the Church to stamp it out.
Rome itself, as I note in an article to be published in the July issue of Catholic Family News, is a cesspool of pornographic advertisements and billboards. This is the handiwork of none other than the late Pope John Paul II, whose 1983 Concordat with the Republic of Italy, replacing the 1929 Lateran Concordat entered into by Pope Pius XI and the Kingdom of Italy, included a provision that removed Rome's status as a Holy City. Rome turned into a cesspool of pornography within a year of that Concordat, something I noticed during my first visit to Rome in October of 1984. We had to take special precautions to shield Lucy Mary Norma's eyes throughout the pilgrimage. "This makes the billboards in Orange County and Los Angeles seem tame by comparison," I noted to Sharon. There was one particularly odious advertisement that appeared virtually everywhere in Rome. We had to divert Lucy's attention every time we saw it, which was very frequently. Thank you, Giovanni Paolo Secundo il grande!
We were able to get some sleep on the first night of our stay, arising around 10:30 a.m., Rome time (which was 1:30 a.m., Pacific time) on Wednesday, May 11. It was then that I purchased some eggs and bread for the family at a store near the open-air market. After a bite to eat for lunch at a trattoria near the apartment we began to push Penance the Stroller with Lucy inside on our way to Piazza San Pietro, roughly a one and one-half mile walk from Via Andrea Doria 79. The stroller was a nightmare. A nightmare. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we love you, save souls!" I exclaimed as I tried to push the thing over the cobblestones and on the beaten-up cement sidewalks. The thing stopped jerkily. It was hard to maneuver. All four wheels kept spinning around until Sharon, who I call Mrs. Fix-It (she's the brains in this outfit when it comes to fixing things like this), found out how to lock them in place. Undaunted, though, we continued to trudge on down the Via Candia to the Via Leone IV to the Porta di Angelica that takes one to the Bernini Colonnade and Saint Peter's Square itself.
At Home in Rome, No Matter the Problems
I have been in Saint Peter's Square and in the Basilica of Saint Peter's scores upon scores of times during my previous five visits to Rome. My reaction upon returning to Saint Peter's Square and seeing the Basilica of Saint Peter after having been away for some years is always the same: I am home. This is my home. My initial reaction in 1984, contained in a manuscript that will be worked into a sequel to There Is No Cure for This Condition if the supply of the original is ever justified by the sales of our existing supply, was as follows: "Wow! Saint Peter's. I can't believe I am here." My next reaction, which followed almost immediately upon the first, was: "This is my home. I've always been here!" Well, my reaction was pretty much the same when we pushed the stroller down some steps that led from the colonnade to the piazza: it was good to be home again. No matter how bad things are at any given moment in the history of the Church, my friends, Rome is indeed our home. It is the Seat of the Holy Faith. Saint Peter's Basilica is built on Vatican Hill, the very site where the first Pope was crucified upside down in the year 67 A.D.
We had prepared Lucy Mary Norma for the trip by showing her pictures of Rome. She learned to recognize the sights as a result of those pictures, saying at a computer store in Tustin, California, "There's the Coliseum," when she saw it on an flat-screen television that was displaying an image from a streaming broadcast over the internet. I expected her to be very excited upon our arrival in Saint Peter's Square.
"Lucy, what's that?" I asked her.
"Saint Peter's Basilica, Dada," she said very matter-of-factly, being more interested in the fountains in the square than anything else.
We had to wait about fifteen minutes in the mid-day heat of the Mediterranean sun to get through the security station that was set up at the northeast part of the colonnade. As I pushed the stroller up the cobblestones to take it to the lobby where it could be checked prior to our entrance into the Basilica I asked Lucy if she saw the statue of Saint Peter on the right side of the Basilica.
"That's Saint Paul, Dada. Saint Peter's on the left " she said matter-of-factly.
Indeed, it was Saint Paul, holding the sword, the instrument of his martyrdom. My fatigue and sickness had gotten the better of me. I should have remembered that Saint Peter, the chap holding the Keys of the Kingdom, you know, was on the left side of the Basilica. This was payback for the time that I, at age six, told my father he was going in the wrong direction to get to the Villa Victor Restaurant in Syosset, Long Island, New York. My father was not pleased that I had corrected him (even though I was right). I offered up my own humiliation at my daughter's correction of me, in my fifty-fourth year, to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart.
The line proceeding up from the colonnade to the Basilica was quite long. We had to struggle to plough our way through the line to check Penance the Stroller in at the check-room at the north end of the Basilica. It was then a further wait on a very long line assembled on the steps leading to the Basilica. That particular line, however, was to purchase tickets for the long walk and elevator ride to the Cupola. We had to fight our way through that line (and the line waiting to view the tomb of Pope John Paul II) to get into the Basilica itself.
We had no interest in waiting interminably on a line simply to pay our respects at the tomb of the late Holy Father, whose immortal soul is remembered in our prayers every day. If there had been an opportunity to go the the Crypt Level of the Basilica of Saint Peter then we would have gone. I would have liked to have prayed once more at the tomb of Pope Pius XII and have visited some of the chapels on the Crypt Level. With the long lines moving at very slow pace,. I decided that our time was better used showing our daughter the Basilica and praying in the Eucharistic Adoration Chapel.
The Glories of the Basilica of Saint Peter
As noted above, I have been in Saint Peter's countless numbers of times during my previous visits to Rome. There is never a time when I am not filled with awe at the thought of how many artisans and skilled craftsmen and others worked assiduously to complete each magnificent detail in the Basilica. Whether it be the corner of a pillar adorned with the face of an angel or a marvelous sculpture of a pope, say Benedict XV, atop his tomb (there are some popes buried in the main level of the Basilica, including Benedict XV and Saint Gregory the Great) or of Saint Helena holding the True Cross or a painting of Saint Joseph holding the Child Jesus, one stands in awe at the selflessness of so many countless human beings who used the skills God gave them so generously for His honor and glory in the very seat of the Catholic Faith itself. Although it is unlikely that I will ever return to Rome in this mortal life, I will stand in awe once again if it is indeed in God's Providence for me to return. The love of God and of His greater honor and glory is on full display in every corner of the Basilica of Saint Peter.
One of the first things we saw in the Basilica was Michelangelo's Pieta. My wife and her youngest sister started their individual paths to the Catholic Faith in 1989 when they stood before the Pieta and cried and cried and cried, being moved by the sight of Our Lady holding the dead Body of her Divine Son. Neither talked to the other about that emotional experience until years later, and both had the opportunity to relive the moment on Friday, May 20, 2005, as they beheld the Pieta once again (and crying with tears of joy and gratitude for having been brought to the true Faith by Our Lady as a result of their first visit sixteen years before). As my wife has told me, "Our Lady knew that she had us at that moment when we were crying. It took us years longer to let her have us."
Just as she had recognized the statue of Saint Paul in the Piazza outside of the Basilica, Lucy Mary Norma recognized the Pieta immediately. She has scores upon scores of Holy Cards, making up for the fact that her father collected baseball cards in his youth. She knew what the Pieta was instantly, kneeling down reverently in front of the glass partition that was built after a deranged individual defaced it in the 1960s. My wife has done such a wonderful job imparting the Faith upon our dear, dear daughter.
It was then on to the Eucharistic Adoration Chapel to give thanks to Our Lord for His having brought us to Rome safely. It is customary for groups of people to wait at a rope line until adorers (most of whom stay for but a short time) leave and space permits the entrance of those waiting at the rope line. We had to wait our turn, doing so as Lucy looked down through a metal grating to see the people lined up in the Crypt Level walking slowly to view the tomb of Pope John Paul II. "Look at those people down there," Lucy said with amazement.
Poor Clares keep Our Lord company during the hours that He is exposed solemnly for worship in the chapel in Saint Peter's from around 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. A large number of people stay in the chapel for lengthy periods of time, proving once again that God is stronger than all of the revolutionaries within His Church. His grace is still at work in the lives of Catholics who know nothing about the glories of Tradition and who might think that anyone who goes to an "unapproved" Traditional Latin Mass is "outside" of the Church. Yes, many good and truly believing priests who offer the Novus Ordo Missae, which is certainly defective and harmful, as I have pointed out in GIRM Warfare and elsewhere, continue to foster belief in and reverence towards the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. How can, say, a twenty-something Catholic who knows nothing of Tradition at all (and I mean at all) come to have a profound devotion to Our Lord in His Real Presence if he had not been influenced by priests and by laity who are themselves devoted to It? This does mean that we must not invite all Catholics, both priests and the laity, to embrace the fullness of the Church's Tradition, starting with the Traditional Latin Mass, without compromise. This does mean, however, that we cannot dismiss the prayerfulness and devotion of people who do not have as of yet the graces to see the necessity of embracing Tradition. Indeed, it is the sacrifices and the prayers of such good and prayerful people that help keep our situation from getting worse than it actually is at present.
Displays of reverence work both ways. It is said that curial cardinals and other officials were impressed in the Holy Year of 2000 with the reverence and devotion of the pilgrims who came to Rome with tours sponsored by the Society of Saint Pius X. The Catholicity of pilgrims who are thought, wrongly, by so many to be "outside" of the Church is what prompted the Holy See to initiate a new set of negotiations with the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X, which negotiations are analogous to those that take place in the Middle East from time to time: on-again/off-again. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Bernard Fellay, the Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, gave a very good summary of the Society's position on these negotiations during a pastoral visit to the United States in November of 2004. That these negotiations commenced in 2000 at all was the result of the devotion of the Catholics who came to Rome with the priests of the Society, demonstrating that no Catholic of good will can dismiss the genuine piety of those of his fellow Catholics who differ with him quite fundamentally on issues of grave importance.
The beauty and the ecstasy of the cavernous Basilica is impossible to capture in words. Indeed, so much of our pilgrimage to Rome was impossible to fathom. The mind can only go numb at seeing a relic of the True Cross (in the Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme) or thorns from the Crown of Thorns or the plaque that was placed over Our Lord on the Holy Cross by Pontius Pilate. You look at these things, knowing full well what it is you are looking it, finding it, however, absolutely beyond your ability to fully comprehend and appreciate. The same is true of Saint Peter's Basilica. I've been there endlessly. Its glories are truly incomprehensible.
As we exited the Eucharistic Adoration Chapel we heard the clang of a bell ringing twice, signifying the start of a Mass. As we had not been to Mass that day, I almost said, "Let's make an exception" to our decision not to attend the Novus Ordo Missae. That fleeting thought vanished when I saw the streams of concelebrating priests and heard that the "principal celebrant" was yakking away at the beginning of Mass in Italian, giving an "introduction," something that his perfectly within his right to do as outlined in the General Instruction to the Roman Missal, that went on interminably. "Oh," I said to Sharon, "they've taken away our right ot assist at the Mass of the ages in the seat of the Roman Catholic Faith. May God have mercy on us."
Praying at the Altar of "Joey Sarto"
After a bit of prayer in the Chapel of San Giuseppe, we prayed at the altar of Pope Saint Pius X. His sarcophagus is below the altar. "Do you know who this is?" I asked Lucy. "Sure, Dada. That's Joey Sarto." Sharon and I have read Lucy the story of Giuseppe (Joseph, Joey) Sarto out of a coloring book re-printed by TAN Books and Publishers. She knows it by heart. "Come down out of that tree, Joey Sarto?" Lucy whispered to me, referring to a story in the early life of the young Sarto boy when he was picking apples from a tree that was on the property of the parish priest. Lucy knelt and looked on as we prayed to Saint Pius X for the good of the Church and for the Society that has taken him as its patron. We returned to that altar each time we visited Saint Peter's during our two week stay in Rome.
Anonymity and an Archbishop
Fighting the crowds down the steps of the Basilica to pick up Penance the Stroller we made our way back onto the Piazza itself. Lucy, having been confined in Penance the Stroller as we walked along the streets of Rome, ran and ran and ran around Piazza San Pietro. When I asked her near the end of the pilgrimage what was the thing she enjoyed the most about Rome, she replied, "Of course the running."
As Lucy was running around, a familiar figure approached us as we gazed upon a view of the Basilica near the start of the Via Della Conciliazione at the base of the Piazza. I knew the man to be Archbishop John Foley, the Director of the Vatican Office of Social Communications, one of the most influential figures inside of the Vatican compound. "Oh, no," I muttered to myself. "I hope he doesn't ask me my name. We just want to be anonymous on this trip."
My desire for anonymity was quite a change from my first few trips to Rome. As a result of a letter I had written to the late Silvio Cardinal Oddi when he was the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy in 1983, I developed some very good contacts in Rome. Cardinal Oddi requested special seats for me to attend the Papal Audience each time I was in Rome between 1984 and 1996. He gave me entree to Paul Augustin Cardinal Mayer, O.S.B., when he was the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship. The late Father Vincent Miceli had given me a letter of introduction to the late Mario Luigi Cardinal Ciappi, O.P., the Theologian of the Papal Household, resulting in my meeting with this holy prelate in the Apostolic Palace in October of 1984. Contacts increased during my Wanderer years, including one made with a German monsignor who worked very closely at the time with the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. I met with Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls of the Press Office of the Holy See in 1993 and was able several days later to hear Holy Mass in Pope John Paul II's private chapel. And I had front row seats for all of the Papal Masses of Holy Week in 1995, including sitting directly in back of Cardinal Ratzinger for the Easter Vigil Mass. Yes, I am very, very ashamed to admit that I had something of an inflated view of my importance as a result of these contacts and privileges. In reality, of course, I was and remain a terrible sinner. In my pride, though, I basked in the "contacts" and "privileges" I thought I had in Rome.
All of that changed over the years. Excoriated for embracing Tradition without compromise and viewed a schismatic and disloyal Catholic by some of my once closest friends, including priests, I was content during our recent pilgrimage to be in the "back of the bus" with the rest of the crowd during the General Audience on May 18 and at the Angelus address and blessing on May 21, Trinity Sunday. The approach of Archbishop Foley in Piazza San Pietro on the afternoon of May 11, 2005, caused me to want to become invisible. "All to you Blessed Mother," I said to myself.
The archbishop was drawn to us by Lucy's cheerful demeanor and by the fact that I was wearing a New York Mets' baseball cap to protect the bald spot on my head from getting burned to the crisp as it had in the Mediterranean Sun on Palm Sunday in 1995 when I had a primo seat for the Papal Mass that day.
"Where are you from?" Archbishop Foley asked. I mumbled something about living in a motor home and going from here to there. He then introduced himself and I gave him my name, reminding him that we had met in 1993 when I wrote for The Wanderer. "I know the name" was his stolid response. His Excellency was good enough to give us his blessing, although he recoiled a bit when Sharon knelt to kiss his episcopal ring. He was really most charitable and very humble. As I noted above, he is one of the most prominent figures in the Vatican, having been a protege of the late John Cardinal Krol, the long-time Archbishop of Philadelphia, and having been in the Vatican since the days of Pope Paul VI. We were grateful for his episcopal blessing.
Gypsies and William Levada
A stroll down the Via Della Conciliazione found the Church of Santa Maria in Transpotina closed. Apart from the major basilicas, most of the churches in Rome close at 1:00 p.m. and don't re-open until 4:00 p.m., remaining open 7:00 p.m. Our visit to that church would have to be made on another day. Thus, with Lucy in Penance the Stroller we walked back the one and one-half miles or so to our horrible rented apartment.
Our route took us past the main motor car entrance to the Vatican. One cannot help but notice the bloated bureaucracy that works inside of the Vatican walls. "Why is it necessary for all of these priests, some of whom are a bit too nattily attired, to work here. Shouldn't they be in a parish somewhere?" Sad to note, though, the bureaucracy of the Holy See has grown just as the bureaucracy of civil governments have grown in the past seventy to one hundred years. "You mean to tell me," I spoke to Sharon rhetorically, "everything these priests do inside of there is absolutely necessary for the sanctification and salvation of human souls?" I just shook my head and pushed the stroller as we hugged the walls of the Vatican to make our way to the Via Candia.
As Lucy and Sharon were hungry we stopped at a little pizzeria on the Via Candia just a bit west of the Via Leone IV. We were accosted by several gypsies, one of whom was carrying a little baby to tug at our heartstrings, as Sharon and Lucy ate. One of the gypsies lifted my sunglasses out of my jacket pocket, thinking, I suppose, that there was money underneath them. Wrong person, Madame Gypsy. No money on me, thank you! What little money we had on our person was in a money belt, out of the reach of the enterprising gypsies, some of whom try to steal your money and belongings, others of whom try to play "Autumn Leaves," usually quite badly, on accordions on the Metro or in front of sidewalk cafes.
Our walk back to the rented apartment took us to the Church of Santa Maria della Grazie. Not knowing what was to be found inside, I told Sharon to wait with Lucy, who was such a good sport about being in the stroller most of the day, as I took a look inside of the church.
"They've been here," I told Sharon after taking a look inside of the church, using a line that was uttered by a priest in Whitestone, Queens, in April of 2004 when he showed us the inside of the church were he was assigned. "They," of course, are the wreckovators. Santa Maria della Grazie had been wreckovated. The Blessed Sacrament was off to the side. A table was in the middle. We did not want to confuse Lucy with such a sight. Having prayed before the Blessed Sacrament at Saint Peter's, we made a Spiritual Communion and went along our way to find an internet shop so that I could check e-mail before arriving back at the rented apartment. We do get inquiries about the Christ the King College now and then. I want to be able to try to respond to as many as possible as quickly as possible, admitting that the sheer volume of e-mails is sometimes difficult to process.
One of the most vexing problems that faced me during the visit was not being able to have ready access to my e-mail. The global phone that never arrived was supposed to provide with me with such access. All to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Catholic world got along quite well with a dearth of postings on this site while we were away. There is nothing more important for a priest than to offer Holy Mass. There is nothing more important for a layman after assisting at Holy Mass than to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and to offer prayers to the Mother of God. Although there is indeed work to be done, the work that I do is very secondary to the fulfillment of my duties as a father and a husband. A brief, unintended respite from posting articles did me good. God knew from all eternity that He would yank me away from the keyboard so as to conserve what little energy I had as a result of my sickness to concentrate on getting my family to the Mass of the ages in Rome and to getting them to various churches for visits to Him in His Real Presence.
Still very tired from the flight over to Europe and from the very beginnings of our pilgrimage along the cobblestones of Rome, I nevertheless did want to find a place to check e-mail even though I knew that I would not be able to post any new articles on this site. Misreading one sign near the Metro station on the Via Cipro, I led my family on a rather extended trip around a long, perpendicular block, winding up at the internet shop about thirty minutes after we would have if I had only followed the arrow on the sign. Duh!! It was at that internet shop that I learned Pope Benedict XVI was considering appointing San Francisco Archbishop William Levada to be his own successor as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. "More of the same," I said to myself. I began to sing to Sharon, "Just whistle a happy tune..." By the way, John Vennari of Catholic Family News has written a very good and well-documented report on the problems posed by Archbishop Levada's appointment, which was confirmed by the Holy Father at the Basilica of San Giovanni Laterano on Friday, May 13, 2005. "It never ends," I told Sharon. All the more reason for prayer and penance on our pilgrimage.
We returned to our rented apartment, where Sharon cooked some pasta for Lucy. It was unbearably hot in that apartment. The noise of European sirens and automobile horns and the drone of those ubiquitous motor scooters filled the night air. As tired as we all were--and I as sick as I was, it was tough to sleep. More offerings to Our Lady' Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart.
Our goal for the second full day of our pilgrimage, Thursday, May 12, 2005, was to get to the Immemorial Mass of Tradition offered by the Society of Saint Pius X. Getting to that Mass was quite an adventure, the details of which will be recounted in the next installment in this series, which will be posted in a few days.
Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
All of the Martyrs of Rome, pray for us.
Saint Anthony of Padua, pray for us.
Our Home in Rome