Is it over?

busy busy busy! no time to post …

The rumourmongers and naysayers (moi?) were proved wrong last Friday when Rome did not crumble and disappear under the crush of four million pilgrims for the Pope’s funeral. It helped that there were far fewer visitors than predicted (less than two million, certainly). I live just down from Circo Massimo, which had been kitted out as a campsite with a giant videoscreen, and barely noticed any change from usual. I passed a dozen Poles by the Metro and the traffic was slightly lighter (despite a TOTAL BAN on vehicles in the area!). Heh, everyone wants inflated figures in this instance – the Vatican (See! We are still relevant!) and the media (a neverending human tide of the faithful swamps news channels – “Whose turn is it for the Rome junket?”).

As an eyewitness, I estimate there were only a few thousand at Circo Massimo, and most of them were Papaboys.

I found the ceremony itself quite dignified although I cringed at Cardinal Ratzinger’s cheesy theatrics, pointing to the window from where the Pope used to give his blessing,

We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us.

Perhaps, strike that, I know I’m a cynic in these matters, but it was cheesy because it was artificial. It looked as if he was reading someone else’s words and only remembered to raise his hand to point when he saw it written in the script.

Kudos maximus (ahem) to the Civil Protection agency. They managed the crowds superbly and gave lie to the oxymoron Italian organization.

One of their novel ideas was to send text messages to every mobile phone, warning them not to go near the Vatican (see previous post). The day after the funeral, I overheard a Roman grumbling that it had been a cunning plan to allow the Poles to get the best places. (Mamma mia!)

The crowds at the Vatican were certainly not all Polish, given the number of huge banners demanding Santo subito! (immediate sainthood) for the Pope. I had already anticipated a rash of miracles attributed to JPII within a few days, but apparently they had already started being reported before he died.

Father Maksymilian knew a woman in Ukraine with a battered television set which hadn’t worked for two years. When the Pope visited the country, she was desperate to witness it on television, but was too scared to ask her Russian Orthodox neighbours to let her watch their set – religious rivalries run deep in Ukraine. Suddenly, just as the Pope was arriving in the country, her broken-down TV whirred into life. It continued to work for his entire stay, then died again. “Really, the set was garbage,” says Father Maksymilian, concluding his case.

Whirred into life? Perhaps she had just forgotten to wind it up.

Lock down

While millions are heading towards Rome, many Romans are heading out before the city is locked down tomorrow with the closure of both airports and many major roads out of town. Judging by the ease with which I managed to find a parking space this morning, many have already left. In our office, tomorrow has been declared a “non-working day”, which seems like grudging euphemism for a day off. It’s our daughter’s sixth birthday, so we’re ecstatic to be able to spend the whole day with her. We moved her party from Friday to Saturday because of the anticipated chaos.

Other signs of impending social collapse include the convoy of Red Cross ambulances from Palermo that I got stuck in this morning. I felt like I’d cut into a funeral cortège – that’s a big no-no, isn’t it?

The night was filled with wailing sirens ripping through the darkness at high speed. The single sirens were ambulances; the multiple ones were convoys bringing the 200 “big”, as the local press calls them, to the Vatican, i.e. Bush and Co.

There is a constant stream of stories coming out about the faint rate in the queues, or how long people have been waiting with small children.

“These people are a living witness to the theology of sacrifice,” he said. “They are showing John Paul with their bodies that they understood.”


Rev. Jonathan Morris, an American priest working in Rome


The doors to the Basilica were closed at 22:00 last night.

I’ve also been receiving mysterious sms (text messages) from “Protezione civile” warning me about what clothing to wear during the day and at night. The latest message says the centre is closed to all traffic, that St Peter’s Piazza is full and that there are giant screens in other piazzas and in Tor Vergata. Somehow I don’t think the two million Poles will be content with watching a video screen at a university campus in a godforsaken suburb stuck outside the city limits.

Another mystery is the reported jump in Lotto ticket sales, up 20% in Naples. Whenever there is a significant event, people get twitchy about the twilight zone, or in this case, that great Italian tradition of getting money without having to work for it. The numbers they’re playing? 21-37-48

Can you guess what they represent?

Padre Pio ©h®i$™@$

When I visit other offices here at work, it’s surprising how many people have religious pictures around them. Some are large-sized prints of a demure Mary and child floating in the stars with bright beams of light radiating from their edges. Back-lighting always does wonders for a woman, I think.

The most common image, however, is of Padre Pio. He’s everywhere in Italy and in every form. Even Italian lorry drivers are ditching topless pin-ups for more spiritual reminders of the afterlife. Perhaps a wise idea when you consider driving habits in Italy.

The Vatican marketing department has obviously taken a leaf out of Disney’s “brand everything” philosophy, so that you can collect Padre Pio stickers, babybottle holders, plastic cups, scratch ‘n’ sniff cards. Ok, I made that last one up, but the range of products at my corner kiosk is a lot more than the traditional books and videos on offer at Catholicshopper. I guess the Vatican needs to crank up the money-making machine to pay for their recent legal costs in California.

I’m not going to tell the story of Padre Pio: see here for a pro account and herefor the sceptic’s view. For my own part, I waver between fascination at what is a wonderful anthropological example of a belief system in full force, and head-shaking pity for the obvious exploitation of people’s fears and credulity.

I am with you all ways

The creator of these pictures explains how he was inspired to start:

I was awakened in the middle of the night with a clear, vivid impression that the Lord wanted me to do some special drawings — drawings depicting ordinary people in their everyday environment . . . . with one important addition: the presence of Jesus Christ and His involvement in those routine activities.

Now I admit I really loved the pictures, as in laughing out loud, but then I’m an unrepentant atheist who’s going to suffer the agony of eternal damnation …

In the meantime, I thought of giving the pictures captions. I’ll start. In the bank teller picture, Jesus is saying, “That’s it. Nice and easy. Keep your hands where I can see them and no one will get hurt.”