Occasionally we get someone so welcomed in the Tavern that it even causes me to change my shirt and comb my beard. So it was when Angela Shanahan came by.
Of the journalists and commentators in Australia that get my attention, Angela is right up there in the top five. Rarely does she fail to make a pertinent point or fail to defend some crucial aspect of our society.
A Heroine for Truth. Courageous. Faithful.
She has been over in Rome for a conference and dropped by so that we Spectators could get the good and Holy oil straight from the source.
I have been spending the week in Rome, having breakfast and dinner most days with Pope Francis I. Literally. How did a suburban mum from Canberra end up sharing digs, and dinners, with His Holiness, not to mention narrowly avoiding collision with the successor of Peter, coming and going from his rooms at Casa Santa Marta, within the precincts of the Vatican?
I am here for a conference of jurists and other lay people about the rights of the family for the
Pontifical Council for the Family.
My role is to speak as an Australian journalist and commentator, specifically about the image of the family in Australia. The conference is aimed at updating the Charter of Rights of the Family, first published during the pontificate of John Paul II in 1983. I have chosen to speak about the dissonance between the media imagery of family and the reality.Consistent message is best from a consistent observer, critic, commentator and educator. Angela combines these qualities in her Journalism. It is a wise choice of delegate to the Conference as her knowledge of the Australian scene is first class and stable.
To my astonishment, the invitation included accommodation at Santa Marta where the Pope now lives, and where he dines almost daily in the common dining room.
To say that this presents some unprecedented problems of etiquette for the average layperson, like me, is an understatement. I knew Pope Francis lived at Santa Marta, but I had not really expected that I would see him every day, sometimes twice a day at close range, using the common front entrance and doing things like eating his dinner in the cafeteria and getting in and out of the lift, as well as formally receiving lines of people after mass at the chapel.
One American delegate — an eminent jurist from New York — was so shocked when he suddenly walked out of the lift and, lo and behold, there was Francis standing ready to get into the lift. All his careful preparation went out the mental window and all he could manage was a faltering ‘Oh… Hi!… er, Pope.’
Personally I see this as de-mystifying the role of Pope. It is akin to the CEO of a large International organisation (which the Catholic Church is) eating his lunch in the staff dining room. Good management practice where practicable.
The atmosphere in the dining room when Pope Francis enters is completely relaxed. He simply walks in unannounced, sits a little apart with some companions, usually chats with the staff, and after a slight lull in the conversations everyone carries on, only sometimes giving his table the odd covert glance. In fact, one tends to forget he is there, until he leaves and everyone stands up.
There is an unspoken feeling that it is important to protect the Pope’s privacy, but at the same time as he himself said, he needs to stay among ordinary people for his own sake. The Pope’s visibility and accessibility also presents problems for his frazzled security, although they have obviously been told not to be too vigilant in the confines of Santa Marta. I even managed to get a couple of admittedly, sneaked candid shots of His Holiness, once with the enthusiastic collusion of a bishop from Ghana, who being African was somewhat dismissive of ‘those rules’.
The conference is being held at Urbaniana University high up on the Janiculum hill, which without doubt has the most spectacular views from St Peter’s to the whole of Rome right out to the mountains.
Those who are not staying at Santa Marta can enjoy the beautiful gardens, a real oasis. The seminarians sing beautifully during Mass and when I look up to the choir I notice something interesting, the face of the church,....
This is an observation that seems to reflect the changing demographic of the Church.and they are all black or brown.
It ought not to be unexpected as the Church has almost exhausted itself in Europe while now benefitting from the fruits of several hundred years of Missionary activity in Africa, Asia and South America.
Conferencing is hard work and after mass we spend most of the day cooped up in the conference centre with multiple translation earphones glued to our heads. My speech goes down well. But halfway through I see Archbishop Paglia, who heads the Pontifical Council for the Family directorate, signalling madly for me to slow down. The problem? The Italian translation takes about a third longer than English.Not that the translators usually have to tackle the Aussie twang !
Meanwhile, I have met some of the most important Catholic thinkers and spokespeople at this conference, all old hands at international conferences: people such as Helen Alvaré, Jane Adolphe and Theresa Okafor. John Keown from the John Kennedy Institute in Washington speaks on end of life issues and the growing problem of legalised euthanasia.
It turns out that John and I have mutual friends in Sydney. In fact, so many people know other people that one could almost be forgiven for thinking that the Catholic mafia really exists.
The papers and discussions range over a wide area of topics related to the family and there are some fascinating insights, particularly on the role of women, marriage and the life issues.
For example, there is consensus among the north Americans that
the battle against abortion has been ‘won’ by the pro-life side
(unlike in Australia).
All the opinion surveys point to this, but what is even more evident is the youth and diversity of the pro-life movement. Gone is the divide that saw the old Catholic pro-lifers versus the ‘progressives’.Hmmm. I wonder. They conference people may show that but on the streets...? In the Media? The 'Progressives' (a code word used by Socialists, Cultural Marxists and their fellow-travelling Feminists) seem to be very much on the high-ground, up with the 'Elite', destroying as much as they can in the lower lands of society.
The movement in the US is incredibly diverse: women, men and gay and straight. It has taken long enough for people to see the obvious about killing the unborn, but science is on our side.
However, one interesting point was that there is no correlation between the pro-life cause and the fight against gay marriage,
which many young people cannot understand breaks the essential generative function of the marriage relationship.
The church has been much less successful in forming that narrative.In Tasmania the 'progressives' seem to be 'winning' on all fronts with the Gay marriage 'equality' issue and Abortion and Euthanasia being so high on the Socialist-Feminist Governments agenda, ahead of being thrown out of office at the next election.
And no wonder. The Catholic Church in Oz is so diluted with wishy-washy Church of Nice people, both Cleric and lay, and their 'Zozschial Justiz' agenda, that effective protest is muted almost to silence.
On the last day of the conference Archbishop Paglia let slip the new Pope’s insistence on vigorous consultation for his new papacy.
Paglia is insistent that we are going in a new direction.
He quotes the Holy Father just after his election saying,
‘I need your advice… don’t hold back, or you will be going behind my back!’
We all feel honoured and privileged to be part of that advice-forming process. As I make my way back to Santa Marta, and the Swiss guards salute, I reflect that it is unlikely that I shall ever be in such company again.
Thankfully she came straight to the tavern for a grand welcome home.
We have drinks for her.
She brings a draught or two for all of us too.
Pax Dei Vobiscum