Of Bishops, Walkers, Monks and Popes


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January 8th 2007
Published: January 8th 2007
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His Eminence raises his eyes from the document he was studying, he sees me and with austere manners signals me to enter. It’s not exactly an invitation, it’s rather the badly disguised blow of tail of a horse tryin to get rid of annoying flies. He’s clearly receiving me in bad will: an awful beginning. It had taken me weeks to get an appointment, then, once fixed such a meeting, causes of act of God had held him away from the episcopal palace: just that day, just at that hour! Hence, this time I showed up without any appointment, adducing the urgency like cause. And it is true: I’m leaving in the evening!

The bishop’s office is small and modestly furnished; the style is in line with the rest of the palace with no sign of ostentation whatsoever. Only the enormous golden cross hanging from his neck doesn’t fit in the environment, ending up givin His Eminence a vaguely sinister likeness to A-Team’s Mister T.

The reasons of my visit are not disowned to His Eminence, in fact, in order to get received, I had been previously forced to express my requests to a series of secretaries, seminarians and other subordinate priests alike. What I wish is just a simple letter of introduction to exhibit to the catholic communities in those countries that I’m planning to visit during my upcoming peregrinatings. Analogous letters had been previously and kindly underwritten by my town’s mayor, by the editor of a local magazine and from the parish priest at Pettorano (having the one from my town’s parish plainly refused to). None of these people had the obligation, but in name of mankind’s brotherhood they helped me out with genuine enthusiasm.

“You are Mister D’Aprile…” God knows why, but I soon start picking similarities with the analogous scene from “Big Lebowski”. I was tempted to correct him: “No, no, You are Mr. D’Aprile, I’m The Dude…”. Then a true interrogation rained over me: “What academic title have you got? Do you travel in behalf of any public institution? Are you making this journey for any TV/newspaper?” What???...Ah, all clear, if I was someone rich and/or powerful and/or potentially dangerous I would get such a letter. But… “In these terms my answer can only be a negative one”. End of the interview.

I leave the office disappointed and quiete disgusted. You can call me an ingenuous but, truly, from such a man of “Faith” I would have expected enthusiasm, comprehension, a pat on my shoulder and a bless. The reality, insted, looks like the cold giving/receiving calculations of a bureaucrat. While walking trough the austere stone corridor, the secretary approacheas me asking how the meeting was. I’m in a bad mood indeed, and I’m on the brink of explaining him with high graphic care the use His Eminence should make of his ring but, eureka, again the “Big Lebowski” scene came back to my mind. It’s just a moment. “Very well, he told me to give the letter to you to have it signed and stamped”. We enter his office and a few minutes later, bewildered, I emerge from the building with the letter I came for in my hands.

Neverthless, that unpleasent feeling of rotten remains, and my mind keep munching on it through this first leg on my trip. I keep thinkin about what religion represents for humankind, on its immense healing potential and, on the other hand, on all the distortions arising from its institutionalization. The Raiano-Roma train ride lasts roughly 3 hours, covering a total distance just above 150 Kms, a ridiculuous average speed for the XXI century. It’s the old way and nowadays almost nobody use it. But I like its wrinkles and, besides, I’m not in a hurry. I caught the last train, the 7pm one, outside is dark, not even the Appennini landscape to draw my attention away from my own thoughts. Two stories, so similar yet so different, come to my mind.

First story is about Mario, a friend of mine who, a few years back, at the age of forty, got diagnosed a serious form of cirrhosis that, according to the doctors, would have put an end to his life within a few years. Mario, a trekker, not a believer, during one of his later treks bumped into one of those many crosses that dot our mountains. Strange enough, it was not on the very top on the mountain and therefore even difficult to spot. Nobody seemed to know anything about who had made it and why. Anyway, it was in terrible shape, lining towards one of its sides and completely rusty. He vowed to make yearly maintenance of that remote, unheard of cross as long as God would give him strenght to fulfill such a task. The mentioned cross lies on Mount Majella, about 2800 m.a.s.l. and is 2.5 meters tall, meaning that, apart from paint and tools, you need a ladder. Last summer I went with him in such yearly journey and thus the one whitewashing the cross in the pic is me, not him (in my case for the mere sake of getting the pic itself taken); he was the one who carried staff and -above all- the metal ladder on his shoulders. The trekking starts at La Majelletta, 1900 m.a.s.l., hence a total climbing of roughly 900 meters. It’s not Mount Everest, true, but believe me, it’s a hard trek even without carrying a ladder and with 25 years less on the shoulders. And he repeats such a feat every single year. Now, obviously enough, vow apart, he quit smoking, drinking and eating meat, which is the phisical/chemical reason why he’s still (well) alive 15 years after getting cirrhosis diagnosed but what religion represent in million of cases like this if not a push, a reason to keep fighting? In my humble opinion, the existence of God itself doesn’t really matter, but the fact that the life of so many people improves thanks to the mere believing (in someone or in something) make the existence of religions well worthy.

The second story, instead, is -to say little- grotesque. Last october, Bagnaturo (another small town in Abruzzo)’s parish priest refused to celebrate the funeral for a deceased fellow parishioner “guilty” of beein divorced. Now, relatives and friends of the defunct and other parishioners alike did not appreciated and next day the clergyman was forced to ask for police protection to leave the church unhurted. Outside, in the main square, the crowd gone wild yelling insults and threats to him. To the journalists, the priest defended himself, sayin he solely acted in obedience to the orders received from… guess it, right?... yes, from the above mentioned bishop. The latter, interviewed, declared he simply applied the canonical law and that the priest did act correctly. Once again, the bureaucrat that replaces the human beein; (twisted) religion that wins over feelings; written rule that erases common sense.

And, last, the popes. On Mount Morrone, down the road from the wanna-be-lynchin-parish, lies San Celestino hermitage, erected in the spot where Pietro da Morrone, eventually pope Celestino V, had spent most of his life as ascetic. The fame of such a pope lies in beeing nowadays, after as much as 1974 years of history and not less than 267 popes, the only Vatican’s head of state to have resigned from his position. He was a monk and an ascetic, clearly enough nothing had to share with the simony business. On december 13th 1294, after a mere four months spell as pope, he abdicated. Six months later he was arrested on order of the new pope (and secretary of state during the very short Celestino V’s papacy) and emprisoned in Rocca di Fumone where he died under mysterious circumstances…

I’m in Rome, I’m staying at my good friend Pino. I talk to him about this morning meeting with the bishop. As usual, the bad taste in one’s mouth diminishes when sharing it with a friend, as much as a medicine seems less bitter if diluted in lemon juice. Vatican City is a stone throw from my friend’s flat; Saint Peter basilica and Bernini’s colonnade remain a wonder to contemplate in awe. One can either search for the perfect picture or look a bit beyond, behind the famous balcony where a new renter reigns. In his first year of papacy he clearly choosed the way of conservatism in both religious (no priesthood for women, for exemple) and social issue. Sadly enough, his words are well listened to in my country and so, in year 2007 AD, Italy still doesn’t reconnaice any form of legal partnership between two people outside the marriage. I wouldn’t bet my dirty underwear on it, but I’m pretty sure we are the only developed country in the world with such a legal vacuum. Nice.

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8th January 2007

The talents of a rogue Italian never cease to amaze
Marco - amici! Great to read your news and your fantastic writing. You have a gift my friend, get into publishing.... before you are too old! ; Your ramblings remind me of some good discussions on board the felluca on the Nile. Seems travel and life is making you increasingly wise. Bravo! Claire and I are currently in the Philipinnes, in backwater Palawan. Fantastic place, beautiful scenery and sea and even more beautiful people. Little mainstream tourism here which is great, you'd be proud of us! Take care and talk soon. Chris and Claire
9th January 2007

chapeau!
Hi Marco, Chapeau means hat in French! And in Belgium we use the word to give a compliment! And that is exactly what I want to do! I am really enjoying the stories on your blog! Already looking forward to the next one! Big hug, Vanetsa
13th January 2007

great!!
hi man, surely u can remember me, the other Marco from the nomadcommunity.org i'm back just now from USA and soon u'll read more in my website! here i only want to give u my sincerely compliments and appreciations for your blog!!! see u! marco penna
29th January 2007

Great Blog
Very interesting, and your descriptions and observations are brilliant!!! Keep writing

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