Monday, June 4, 2007

June 4 - Well and Truly Done

There were clear indications today that the 44th General Chapter is well and truly done. After Mass in the JPII Chapel and a bit of breakfast, the focus shifted to moving things about so that offices became offices again, libraries became libraries, and things were put back to where they belonged before the Chapter began. For example, the area where the translators did their work had all of their computers removed as the area became reading tables again. Even the primary chapel for the community changed today from the "winter chapel" (the JPII room) to the "summer chapel" (the main chapel). And so the chairs were carted off to the main chapel while everyone else was trying to move things as well. Carts of various types were in high demand.

It's good that I moved rooms also, since I had to move everything from the "office" to my bedroom in preparation for my flight back on Wednesday. I'm not sure it would have all fit into the tiny room that I'd had before. As it is, it looks as if I'll have to have some things sent home to me. The former Councillors also were moving out of their offices and rooms in order to let the new crew move in within the next few months. So it was a lot of running around for most of the morning.

Around 10 AM I joined Leonardo for his trip to the Vatican. I'd decided to dress in my robe because I figured that this was my only chance to wear it in a country where it was an "expected" dress rather than an oddity. As a result, as was pointed out by Leonardo, the Swiss guards and Vatican police would often salute us as we passed. Kind of cool.

Leonardo and I first went to the Department of State, but security was very tight and we couldn't proceed beyond the doorway without an appointment. We did, however, run into a friend of Leonardo's who works in the Vatican, Rafaelo Ottavianno. He gave Leonardo his commissary card so that we could buy things at the Vatican store with a 30% savings. Several errands later, we did go to that store where I bought a couple of relatively small items, and indeed the prices were very good with that card. There were different "departments" inside of the large former train station, from the out-of-the-way and smaller-tighter room with liquor and cigarettes to the larger areas for electronics, clothing of all typies (mostly fancy and expensive), ladies purses (a little more expensive than the ones sold illegally on the streets of Rome, but very familiar to me now in their style), jewelry and watches, and even a linen / bedding / towels section. When I was looking at the shirts, the man in charge of that section came over and after a few sentences determined that I was a "43" - something that he probably does all of the time with folks dressed up in various religious garbs. Then he tried to sell me a black shirt with a clerical collar. Of course we had to tell him that that wouldn't apply in this case. When I did find a shirt I liked, he didn't blink an eye when I took off the top part of the robe at his request to get an accurate measurement. I am, indeed, a "43." Once decided on, any purchase in the store is not simply taken to the cash register out front. Instead, they give you a piece of paper with a number written on it, and you go to the cash register to pay for your goods and pick them up there. Here we are, at one of focal points of the Catholic Church, frequented only by "official" Vatican people and their guests, all of them undoubtedly Catholic and including quite a number of priests, bishops, cardinals, perhaps even the pope himself, and they don't trust you enough to take an article to the cash register and pay for it. Perhaps it's an application of the principle of not placing yourself in situations of temptation - if there's no chance of anyone even thinking about stealing something, then that's good for both the person selling the item and for the person buying the item. Morality in action.

Walking around Vatican City, it was interesting to note the differences from the world in the rest of Rome. There is absolutely no graffiti, of course, and the place is very clean no matter where you go. There are young policement everywhere, directing traffic, asking questions to those getting into various buildings, and working mostly in pairs. There are bright red cars with the Vatican City logo on it (I think they were police cars), and other utility cars or trucks with the same logo. People are dressed very nicely wherever you go and invariably courteous. And the place just seems to hum with effiency and purpose. I must be missing something. Pope John XXIII was famous for having said in response to the question "How many people work at the Vatican?" with the phrase, "About half." If that's even remotely the case, perhaps our new German pope has thrown in a good measure of organization and accountability.

On the way there, most of the traffic in the Vatican was stopped by the police. We didn't realize why until we say a cortege of cars fly by into the back of the Vatican, obviously looking very official. Later on we found out that it was the President of Mexico coming to pay a visit to the pope. This would be reason why all of the Italian police were around with guns showing and the Swiss guards were edgy about anyone who didn't have an appointment. After our trip to the store, we went to Rafaelo's office to return the card and ended up seeing a bit of the building that's right behind St. Peter's in Vatican city. It's the "municipal" building and has a very nice little chapel attached to it, which we visited. The central area on the ground floor, where we waited to Rafaelo, it's beautifully decorated with inlaid marble and large original paintings. There's a good one of Pope Benedict and another very nice one of the Sermon on the Mount. Rafaelo pointed out the marbel seal on the floor, which is Benedict's seal and which was done by the best marble artist in Rome. It showed.

Besides the Vatican store, we also went to the official Vatican photography office. There I asked to see the photos from September 17, 1987, because that's when John Paull II was in San Francisco and when I was less than 3 feet away from him as he passed by (I had been closer, but at the last second three little nuns magically materialized in front of me, all atither and excited, and I couldn't get any closer). I thought that perhaps they might have a photo of that encounter. They brought out an archival box full of proof sheets from those dates and I went through them with a magnifying glass, never finding any likeness of myself in the pictures taken in the SF Cathedral. However, I did find a couple of shots with Brothers in them and put in an order for them. Although I didn't recognize them, perhaps when we have a larger version I will, and then I could send them to those Brothers.

Meanwhile, Leonardo had been looking at the pictures taken at our audience with the pope the previous Wednesday, and he had me come over to look at them. There were lots of photos, and a couple of good ones with Br. Alvaro - which we also ordered. More interesting still were some pictures showing Roch and myself clearly in the background. We might not have met Benedict XVI, but now we at least might have some pictures with us "pretty close" in the background. All these will be ready on Saturday, so Leonardo will have to send them to me. Maybe that will be an occasion for another quick blog entry. We'll see.

By now it was lunch time, and so we found a nice little walk-in pizzeria and ate it on the sidewalk, sitting on the stoops of nearby businesses. Good pizza and good environment; people watching. Leonardo had to go home after lunch, but I decided to do a little more exploring, walking around the Vatican area and going into and out of various stores. Some of them featured some very substantial religious articles, not just souvenier stuff. One store also included an extensive religious book section, with books in all of the languages. One magazine that I was tempted to get - I resisted - was called "Inside the Vatican." It leans decidedly to the right, but the stories and pictures aren't bad and it comes out every month. It certainly would be one way to stay up with what's happening in Rome.

By the time, my feet were sore and legs were tired. As I entered the plaza in front of St. Peter's, I noticed an empty chair at the end of the collonade and grabbed it. Sitting there for the next 40 minutes was one of the nicest things I did all day. There was a wonderful little breeze blowing, people were walking by speaking all sorts of languages (3 Cunard Line groups, for some reason), the weather was overcast but warm, and the chair was comfortable, with a direct view towards the papal apartments. It was one of those "moments" that I'll remember from this trip.

Finally, it was time to go home and so I grabbed the next 46 to come along and proceeded back to the Motherhouse for a short nap and then dinner, after a brief social in The Den with a couple of other Brothers. After dinner, Leonardo asked if I'd like to see Rome in the evening and we made plans to meet at 9 PM. Michael Avila also joined us, as did Br. Luis (Visitor) from the District of North Mexico. Leonardo drove us to several places with some terrific night-time views and pointed out various landmarks in parts of Rome that I'd never visited. We ended our nocturnal tour at a gelateria opposite the Victor Emmanuel monument (the same one Roch and I went to when I was here for the Preparatory Commission meeting in February). A good end to a good day.

Now I just have to worry about packing everything up tomorrow and hope that it will all fit.
More pictures from today at