II' has been written of Italy's internationally honoured architect Pier Nervi that "he designs new structures with his heart." He has certainly put his heart into the great new auditorium at the Vatican, where, in future, the Pope will hold his weekly general audiences instead of in St. Peter's Basilica.
The auditorium is close by the headquarters of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the former Holy Office), to the left of St. Peter's as you face the basilica. It can hold 12,000 — 6,000 seated and 6,000 standing.
It has a magnificent entrance hall of gleaming marble and silver-coloured pillars. The auditorium itself has a vaulted, "fluted" ceiling, with concealed lighting. The floor dips gently from the back and straightens out nearer a wide marble stage approached by several steps, and upon which there is a dais where the Pope will sit. From this he will be clearly seen and heard in all sections of the airconditioned auditorium.
This will be a splendid improvement on St. Peter's, where as Professor Federico Alessandrini, head of the Vatican press office said, "only a part of the faithful could see and hear the Pope, and those who could, felt themselves almost privileged above the others."
Another notable im provement is the provision of booths for reporters and radio and television operators, in a loggia above the main floor. Hidden television cameras, installed in the ceiling directly above the papal dais, will make it unnecessary for cameramen to prowl all over the place.
The soaring, arched,
spacious auditorium tends to make look even smaller than they are the extremely small, armless brown plastic seats. These (they are removable) are fixed on slender steel "sterns," and have the appearance of slightly askew mushrooms. They are not uncomfortable, except, perhaps. for uncomfortably overweight occupants, but, somehow, they jar in the magnificent setting.
On the other hand, had they been larger, fewer people would have been able to sit —and sitting at a general audience will indeed be welcome after the St. Peter's general melee.
There is to be a grand organ (there is a temporary small one at present). There are bright ante-rooms, in one of which Pope Paull will hold those semiprivate audiences which follow the general ones. There is also a conference room, with tiered seats, where the next Synod of Bishops, convening in September. may meet. The whole structure is said to have cost about £4 million. Already there is criticism of Vatican "extravagance" at a time when it protests it has no money to spare, and protests that the money could have been better spent on charity. But the Vatican claims it has a bargain. "Unlike most modern buildings, this one has been built to last indefinitely", Pro.fessor Alessandrini says.
The maestro himself, Professor Nervi, came to the auditorium while journalists were being given a preview. The frail old man — he had recently celebrated his 80th birthday — looked very pleased with himself, as well he might.
He is proud, too, that he had no collaborators on this job. "I did it all myself," he says, beaming. He likes to recall that when he first discussed the audience hall with Pope Paul in 1964, he asked if he could dare put up such a great building so near to Michelangelo's masterpiece, the dome of, St. Peter's.
"Dare," said the Pope.
Professor Ncrvi says he has put all his best contributions to architecture and construction" into the auditorium. His basic idea was that the vaulted hall should be so executed that the interior would, like the people, "flow" in one direction to one central spot — towards the Pope seated at the far end.
He has achieved this effect perfectly.
The departure from the rarefied atmosphere of St. Peter's may have had something to do with it. In any case, in demonstrating the excellent acoustics of the new audience hall, someone behind the scenes went from the sacred to the profane with a series of amplified recordings. He started off, appropriately enough, with Bach, and finished with an all-stops-out performance of Ravel's "Bolero".
HE Action Committee for
Justice, an association of progressive lawyers, magistrates and sociologists, has accused the Rome tribunal dealing with divorce eases of playing along with the Vatican, and deliberately delaying acdons, in the hope that a national referendum next year will kilt Italy's recent taw legalising divorce.
The committee says 4,70g divorce applications have been filed in Rome since the law, bitterly opposed by Pope Paul, became effective on December 18. But by May 31, only 51 divorces had been granted, although most of the cases were extremely simple.
The Rome newspaper II Messaggero said that if this rate was maintained, it would take 47 years to handle all the
4,708 applications tiled so far.
Dr. Gabrio Lombardi, professor of Church law at Milan's Catholic University, who heads Italy's anti-divorce law committee, has added new heat to the already spirited divorce controversy by suggesting that
couples should become "legalised lovers" rather than make marriage vows they had no intention of keeping.
A "registered union" could legalise "concubinage," Professor Lombardi said. "If you don't want a lifetime marriage, don't marry," he said. "All we ask is that people should not use the Catholic values of indissoluble marriage if they don't believe in them."
His advice to men Su inclined was that if they wanted to live with a girl so long as she pleased them, go ahead. "But," he added, "don't call it marriage; don't devalue marriage for everyone else."
Professor Lombardi's antidivorce committee completed the first step towards the holding of a national referendum to abrogate the divorce law by collecting 1,370,134 signatures to a petition for the referendum — more than double the 500,000 minimum necessary under the Italian Constitution to call for one.
Meantime, a woman who was married in 1907 is suing for divorce from her husband,
who left her in 1915. Grounds for her action : she and her Ifusband have been separated for more than the five years stipulated in the divorce law. "I merely want my freedom; I have no intention of marrying again," the woman says.
She is 103.