Monday, April 04, 2005

Monday in the City

I made my way back to St Peter's Square again. The scene is largely unchanged. There are still thousands of people there, the upset and the curious, the local and the pilgrim. There are still TV cameras everywhere and there are still workmen making the preparation for what will be an enormous funeral.
One thing that I didn't notice yesterday was the conversion of the bases of the obelisk and lampstands in the square into little shrines. There are burning candles, children are putting up drawings and people of all ages are leaving notes about (or even addressed to) our departed Holy Father. Poignantly some predate his passing. Stay with us a little longer one note from last Friday read. We love you very much said another accompanied by the drawings and signatures of an elementary school group. Papissima read one tribute whilst another said Ciao Papa Papa - a pun in Italian which means Goodbye Daddy Pope. There are hundreds of messages, all expressing loss, but also hope, the recognition that we may expect him to look down on us from above. Of course not all the notes express this faith - for some reason I was particularly touched by one which said I don't believe in God, I disagree profoundly with the message of your church, but even I saw in you one who fought for equality and taught the world how to love. Farewell Holy Father.
Apart from the Vatican and surrounding area, the rest of the city is a little quieter than normal. One notices the extra ambulances and police cars. Thousands of police (of all types - municipal, regional, state, prison and financial) and stewards are being drafted in. Preparations for water distribution and first aid matching those of the 2000 Jubilee are being made. The Catholic Paper Avvenire says Rome Already Invaded by Pilgrims in Homage to the Pope - The Sadness of All. 2,000,000 are expected. I shan't be surprised to discover that figure to be too conservative.
It is only when he is gone that we truly realise the magnitude of the man. The Papacy now seems like a huge mantle which has been laid aside. The office itself seems to have expanded to accomodate a man of gigantic proportions. I'm not sure what the Cardinals are going to do, who they are going to chose, but in our loss let's not forget to pray for them who have a difficult decision to make and for the poor unfortunate who will be called upon by the Holy Spirit to fill what one Italian paper is calling The Greatest Void in the World.

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