Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Exchange of Gardens

On Friday -- less than two months after he welcomed Pope Benedict to the South Lawn of the White House -- President Bush's farewell tour of Europe takes him to the Vatican, where Papa Ratzi will reciprocate the reception he got in Washington.

Well, minus the crowd of 12,000... and the atmosphere that ended up being termed a "prayer service":
The Vatican opted for the "particular" and "unusual" setting as a way to show its appreciation for "the cordial welcome and meeting held at the White House" during the pope's April 15-20 visit to the United States, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said June 9.

Normally heads of state visiting the pope at the Vatican are taken with much fanfare to the pope's library in the main Apostolic Palace.

But "in light of the (pope's) recent pastoral visit to the United States and the United Nations" and for the warm welcome and hospitality shown the pope during his meeting with Bush on the pope's birthday, April 16, an informal setting at the Vatican was chosen instead, said Father Lombardi.

Father Lombardi said Pope Benedict will meet the president and his wife, Laura Bush, at 11 a.m. at the westernmost tip of the Vatican Gardens at the entrance of St. John's Tower.

The pope and Bush will go to a studio on the top floor of the tower to hold closed-door talks after which the two men "will take a brief stroll in the Vatican Gardens," the spokesman said. which time the Sistine Choir will perform.

No joke.

* * *
Meanwhile, at this morning's General Audience, the pontiff continued his series on the Early Greats with a look at Ireland's pioneering evangelist, the pilgrim-hermit St Columbanus (not to be confused with St Columba):
Born around 543 in Navan, in southeast Ireland, but he undertook liberal arts studies and became a monk in the monastery of Bangor (in the north), under the guidance of the abbot Comgall, a man of great religious zeal, extremely severe and a firm supporter of ascetic discipline. Colombanus "practiced with zeal the severe discipline of the monastery", where he matured his conception of monasticism. At the age of about 50, "following the ascetic ideal of being a pilgrim for Christ", he left the island to undertake an evangelising mission on the continent together with 12 companions.

In 590, he reached the British coast. After receiving permission to establish himself in a crumbling old abandoned Roman fortress, in a few months he built the first hermitage there, and "began to evangelise, above all through the testimony of his life". "The fame of those monks who lived a life of prayer and great austerity spread quickly", attracting pilgrims and penitents, and above all many young men who asked to be allowed to live as they did. A second monastery had to be founded, in Luxeuil, not far away. "This would later become the centre of Irish missionary and monastic life on the continent".

His moral rigor - which led to comparisons with John the Baptist - led over the years to problems with the bishops, some of whom criticised his practices, and with king Theodoric II, because of his extramarital relations. In 610, a decree of expulsion was issued for Colombanus and for all monks of Irish origin. The boat they left on got stuck, and the captain saw this as a sign from heaven, and brought them back to land. The monks decided to begin a new work of evangelisation among the Alamanni. Later Colombanus decided to cross the Alps with most of his monks, and arrived in Italy, where he was welcomed by the Lombard court.

But the life of the Church was torn by the Arian heresy and by a schism. Colombanus took part in these, writing a criticism of Arianism and a letter to Boniface IV, to convince him to take steps to restore unity. He founded a new monastery in Bobbio, similar in importance to Luxeuil, and died there in 615.

Benedict XVI emphasised Saint Colombanus's "firm call to conversion and to detachment from earthly goods, in view of an eternal inheritance", and "his ascetic life and uncompromising stance toward the corruption of the powerful". His was a rigor "not as an end in itself", but "only the means to open oneself freely to the love of God", in order to "repay the gifts received" and "against the dominant corruption of the earth and human society". The pope especially emphasised the importance that Colombanus attached to the first commandment: "First, love God, because he himself has loved us since the beginning of time".
PHOTO: Reuters(1); AFP/Getty(2)