Friday, July 01, 2005

"Santo Padre, Questo e' Signor Bono...."

OK, time to open iTunes and put the U2 on....

It seems a little brouhaha has been occasioned by a Fred Barnes story in the Weekly Standard where he asserted that "Bono is a Catholic." I've gotten e.mails asking about this.

In a nutshell, my Commencement Speaker/God-Hero is not -- but his Catholic cred is better than that of many who actually do profess communion with the church. We'll see that tomorrow as the World's Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band takes the stage at Live 8 London.

Of course, the cultural Catholicism of the Free State of the 1960s is contagious and its resonances would stay with anyone raised in it forever. But if we're really to describe Bono's religious leanings -- Mom was church of Ireland, Dad Catholic -- the most fitting term would be "Christian humanist," yet still strongly influenced by the patristics in a way most Protestants aren't. The man born Paul Hewson is not one for a state church; he attended Anglican services as a child but was always impatient with them. From an early age, the boy screamed.

Bono sure did love John Paul II. "The greatest frontman the Catholic church ever had," was his statement as the events of April began. The photos of their meeting at Castel Gandolfo in 1999 abound... but as one of the Fair Amy's commentors asks:

"Are we ever going to see the photos of Pope John Paul wearing Bono's Fly shades?"

And the answer is... No, you won't. Because none were taken.

Here's the story, from what I'm told: Bono brought a present for the Holy Father. He was escorted by a fellow Dubliner, Diarmuid Martin, then bishop-secretary of Justice and Peace, now back in the home country as archbishop of Dublin. Martin, who was the Holy See's liaison for the Jubilee 2000 debt relief campaign which got Bono the audience, introduced his guest with these memorable words:

"Holy Father, this is Mr. Bono. He is a rock singer."

Being a showman himself, John Paul loved meeting one of his ilk. Bono presented his gift -- a book of Seamus Heaney's poetry, bound in white (as is the custom when giving a book to the Pope). But John Paul got excited at the sight of those amber-colored glasses...

Out of deference, Bono had taken them off when entering the room, but JP had his eyes on the prize. So Bono handed them over and the Pope put them on... And nobody else in the room knew what to do. In a panic, a household staffer grabbed Arturo Mari -- the sole photographer with all-access to popes since time immemorial -- and ordered, "Niente foto!" ("No pictures!")

So there were no photos, yet JP got to hold on to the glasses.... A Pope never wants for much, but leave it to Bono to have what he was looking for.