AUDIENCE AND BEATIFICATION IN HOLY YEAR
MieItael de la nedogere
DURING the present Holy Year
more people from outside Italy than ever before will see the Holy Father. Among them will be many thousands of our countrymen. I should like therefore to try LO convey something of the thrill which will so soon be shared, I hope, by very Many of my readers.
, On my recent trip to Rome I saw the Pope twice. and I cannot say which of the two occasions was the more impressive. After the first, 1 thought nothing could be more moving, more unique. Yet the second in its own way was perhaps still more wonderful.
A Special Audience The first occasion was the special audience which Alm Holy Father gave at very short notice to the small group of Dutch, 13ritish and Irish journalists who were flown to Rome as the guests of K.L.M., the Dutch air-line. This particular Press-flight was hardly intended to be a pilgrimage, since the generosity of our hosts was by no means confined to providing spiritual amenities. The audience, as I said, was arranged at very stunt notice. Indeed we knew neither the time nor the day until we were preparing the evening before to go to the opera to see Tito Schipa and Tito Gobbi in The Barber of Seville.
The opera was to end at mid night, after which we were to be taken to one of Rome's most famous restaurants ' for the customary enormous meal, music and dancing until the early hours.
It was impossible to alter this programme, and the consequence was that our Papal audience at the early hour of 9.30 followed by a very short and uneasily slept interval the totally unsuitable revelry of the early morning hours.
I mention this because it added to the significance of the occasion, at least for us. As we donned our morning coats. hastily swallowed a much-needed cup of coffee, caught our coach at the very last possible moment, and finally passed the Swiss Guards at the entrance of the Vatican Palace, we had hardly succeeded in shaking off the atmosphere and climes of the past. Indeed it was all very like a dream within which one moves mechanically and without will until we were finally shown into the gilt and scarlet apartment into which the Pope would walk within a minute or two.
Standing in a semi-circle, and, I must confess, wondering how we must be looking, we waited with some sense of trepidation,
The Pope's Entry And then suddenly and very simply the Holy Father walked in. And with him the whole world changed. A shaft of sunlight caught him as he entered and passed through the intense whiteness of his dress so that for a second he looked like a miraculous figure of alabaster. He moved silently on the thick carpet while a prelate briefly reminded him of the nature of the audience and the names of those present.
The strangeness of the scene seemed to come from the contbinalion of the perfectly natural businesslike movements with the incredible unearthliness of this small, upright, strong, dazzling figure in white.
The Popes actual movements are timed with the exquisite grace of a ballet—but more of that later. He was smiling with great happiness and love. Slowly he moved round the
semi-circle. Each person knelt to kiss his ring and receive his present —a medal in its little blue envelope with the golden papal arms stamped upon it. Of each he asked a few personal questions about their work. their paper, their family.
I must confess to being so nervous that I got my children all wrong and had rather shamefacedly to correct my description.
For perhaps a minute or two he spoke to each person. yet that minute seemed to be given heart and soul by the Holy Father to just that one soul in his flock of hundreds of
millions. Yet again no exaggeration, no suggestion of acting—just complete naturalness, but naturalness coming from a figure beyond the power of imagining. so ethereal, so graceful, so truly beautiful was it.
Having finished the brief round, the Holy Father, still smiling, stood in the centre of the semi-circle, while we fell to our knees. Opening out his arms in a great embrace, he brought them slowly together and imparted his blessing. It was all over, and the real world came back: but back to a group of people most ill-prepared for such an event who nevertheless with one single voice agreed that it had been the supreme moment of their lives. As one person commented quietly on leaving—he was not a Catholic—" That was real—no nonsense about that."
personally was surprised to find the Pope. who walked with the slightest of limps, looking so young
and fit. The slight gauntness of the photographs is untrue to life. He looked ten years younger than his age. He looked happy. He looked as if he loved his perpetual work of giving, giving, giving to all the world and to each in the world the charity and love of Him whose earthly Vicar he is.
In St. Peter's
That same afternoon we had taken our seats by three o'clock in the benches to the right side of the great altar of St. Peter's Chair in the Vatican Basilica where the Blessed Sacrament was to be exposed and before which the Pope was to pray and venerate the relics of the new Beatus, B. Vincent Pallotti.
We had an hour and a half to wait before the Holy Father would come, but every inch of St. Peter's Was already crowded. The time
passed like a few minutes. Above Us the golden glory of Bernini was brilliantly illuminated so that all could see the somewhat garishly painted picture of B. Vincent. Swiss Guards, Chamberlains of the Sword and Cape with their Elizabethan dress, the Palatine and Noble Guard, Monsignori, Bishops moved about easily without stiffness and took their places. I wondered again at the singular proportions of the great church where the canopy over the High Altar, though looking of modest dimensions is actually higher than the tallest palazzo in Rome. In St. Peter's only human beings are out of proportion. being reduced to the size of pygmies.
Much sooner than we expected. the already brilliant blaze of lights was suddenly trebled in power. In the distance we could hear the beginning of cheers,The silver trumpets rang out their papal fanfare. and over the heads of the 40.000 people one could just see the little speck of colour beginning to move slowly towards us. Steadily the cheers and acclamations swelled, and the blessing figure of the Pope slowly enlarged.
That blessing was an extraordinary thing. and I have never seen it properly described. There is no blessing like it.
With a magnificently-timed movement of the whole of his body. the Pope turns himself round first to one side and then to the other, as though he would like to stretch each time right over to his flock. And each sign of the cross is a work of art in itself, large, amazingly dignified, and yet welcoming.
At length the Pope is carried in front of the High Altar and slowly round it, as the cheers and vivas and handkerchief-wavings rise to a crescendo.
Corning towards the great altar on which the Blessed Sacrament is ex
posed he at length passes us. And this is the most extraordinary moment of all, for, without any sort of exaggeration. each single person as he is blessed gets the vividest of impressions that the Holy Father's dark piercing eyes are fixed full on himself.
How the Pope does this. I cannot imagine — or whether perhaps it is the effect of one's heightened sensibilities at such a moment But it is
a fact. That straight, intense look 15 just for toe. lie has picked me out. That is what everyone feels.
At length the Holy Father is at the foot of the altar and descends from the Sedia. Rather heavily. because of his rheumatism, he drops to his knees at the white faldstool. He incenses the Blessed Sacrament. and kneels in prayer. The late Confessor is intoned. Benediction pursues much the same course as in every church and chapel of the Catholic Church.
And then perhaps twenty minutes or half-an-hour later, • the Pope
mounts the Scdia again, this time preceded by a bunch of flowers attached to a long stuff. the flowers representing the virtues of the nese Beams.
Preceded by the helmeted Noble Guard and surrounded by his venerable Cardinals, the great procession begins again, and again one has the chance of studying that lovely rhythmic movement of blessing with the whole of a personality. Again one feels singled out for one's own personal blessing1 Ise cheering. the cry of farewell is yet stronger. The procession slowly passes down the immense basilica. a spot light following the white and scarlet figure of the Pope. At length the bottom of the church is reached, and everyone waits expectantly for the great moment.
The Great Blessing
Slowly the Sedia is turned to fate the people for the last time. There is almost a pause in the cheers. The Pope stands ap and slowly the two white arms are raised into the famous gesture of embracing the whole wide world. The noise has become deafening. St. Peter's is a sea of waving white
handkerchiefs. The white arms are brought together and the three great signs of the Cross are traced over the faithful.
It has all been described again and again; but no description can come within sight of such a stupendous occasion.
Yet it Was not the glorious ageold pageantry, the magnificence of St. Peter's on such a day. the brilliance and he colour which most impressed me. It was the tremendous sense of vital power, vital yearning: the giving over of himself of the Pope and the living response of his people. One comes away feeling that there should be a fifth mark of the Church. Not only is she One, Holy. Catholic arid Apostolic: she is Alive.