Prime Minister receives communion at holiday Mass
From Bruce Johnston in San Gimignano, Tuscany
TONY BLAIR and his family kicked off their holiday here with a church service Sunday, in the ancient church on the estate of their wealthy and influential hosts, the Strozzis, in which the two families were preached to on the dangers and pitfalls of consumerism.
They then spent much of the rest of the day in the 50-room renaissance Villa, in its entire first floor — piano nobile — Prince Girolamo Strozzi, his wife Irena and two daughters. 21 and 16, have put at the Blair's disposal a pool and clay tennis court.
Before a late luncheon, which was washed down by the priest's own Varnaccia wines, Blair was able to be served by demure servants in the shade out in the villa, the Strozzis and the Blairs attended the Mass given by Fr James "Jim" Wenzel.
Fr Wenzel, a 68-year-old Augustinian from Boston, has now said Mass for the Blairs on four other occasions during their holidays in Italy. He and Blair kept in touch the rest of the time, and he is known to all the prime minister's family as simply "Jim". Fr Jim's prescribed reading for Mr Balir is St Augustine's Confessions, which contains the famous line: "Lord give me chastity and continence, but not yet."
"Both [Mr Blair] and Cherie took a great interest in the life of St Augustine and asked if I would send him a copy of his work, which I did," Fr Jim said. "Both he and Cherie read the Confessions in their youth and it had fond memories for them."
The service, which was celebrated for the Blairs and the Strozzis, with several security agents. took place in the fifteenth century San Biagio (St Blaise) which is a typical Tuscan country church.
It is understood that the Blairs took communion at the service. which was said to be quite "memorable".
Fr Mauro Fusi, 47, the parish priest of San Biagio, which serves a tiny churchgoing community of just 120 souls joined Fr Jim at the altar.
Despite the proximity of the church to their stately country home, which vaunts 1000 years of history, the Strozzis are not particularly thought of as church-goers.
Inside the rural church which is couched among cypresses next door to the Prince's pheasant rearing activities, and frescoed with 17th century allegories from the Sienese school representing —Virtue, Faith, Hope and Charity. The voices of the prime minister's children rang with such some apt and meaningful words on Sunday.
Euan Blair gave the first reading, which was from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, on the pointlessness of hoarding earthly riches.
The lesson was read by the boy, the priest later said "in a very selfconfident way," which he said made a "ringing rendering". The highlight of the reading, from Chapter 2 Verses 21 to 23, are as follows: "For here is one who has laboured wisely, skillfully and successfully and must leave what is his own to someone who has not toiled for it at all. This is futile too, and grossly unjust; for what does he gain for all the toil and strain that he has undergone under the sun since his days are full of sorrow, his work is full of stress and even at night he has no peace of mind? This is futile too."
Kathryn Blair read St Paul's letter to the Colossians, in which the apostle urged his flock to opt for the things of heaven, rather than for earthly superficialities.
"You must heavenly minded, not earthly minded... you must deaden those passions in you that belong to earth and. that love of money which is an ideology."
Fr Jim read the Gospel from Luke, in which the Lord is terrible to a man who has more wealth than he could possibly ever use. The reading,
warning against "goods and plenty laid out for many years to come" that God's rebuke to this rith man, which reads: "Thou art fool, this night, thou must render up thy soul; and who will be master now of all thou laid by?"
The priest then did the homily lasting a full ten minutes which, drawing from the Iwo lessons, warned of the dangers of consumerism, and against people wallowing in earthly riches.
During the private service, Mrs Blair's other son Nicholas and her mother, Gale, brought water and wine to the altar.
Sr Mary, a white frocked Indian nun from the hospital community on St Martha in St Gimigoano, played the Church's rare 13th century organ, and other nuns from the same order sang hymns.
The bucolic setting of the church smacked somehow of tie sacred and the profane, however, siice the place of worship is on the other side of green wooden hoarding, which has been set up to protect the pool, barbecue and tennis area behind the left win of the Prince's Nina, Cusona, hidden from prying eyes.