Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Captive Audience

The Weekly Wednesday Gathering of excited faithful with His Fluffiness has just concluded, and Elvis has left the building.

Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna was in attendance, as was the Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appia Turkson, the archbishop of Cape Coast.

I've noted it here before, but it really hit home while watching that this Pope does not receive the lengthy lines of bishops in attendance. They don't even get to make it up the steps of the Nervi to join him for the blessing anymore.

It basically goes like this: Papa Bear walks in from the back of the room, down the central aisle, people taking pictures, jumping, waving pom-poms ($100 says that was the LC), organ blaring in the background, your usual rigamarole -- minus, grazie Dio, sedia gestatorias and anything else that would distract from the meaning of what the Pope is: the universal pastor.

Here's something I don't get, though, and if anyone can help explain this to me, I'd be much obliged. All of the time, and more often than not, when the Pope passes a group of people, they're all taking pictures of him -- more often than not these days using camera phones.


People spend their whole lives watching the Pope on television, and the one moment he's right in front of them, they're looking at him on a cellphone screen. Why?

If you want a photo that bad, there are 18 million tchotske shops within five minutes of the Vatican. It might be your one chance in life to see the Pope with your own eyes. Please, please, look at him, not your phone with a picture of him on it.

With apologies for the digression, procediamo.

Making his way toward the front of the cavernous hall, which seats 6,000 and has been packed out the door since the audiences went indoors last month for the first time in this pontificate, the bishops get treated no differently -- a wave, and handshakes for those who are close enough to the aisle. When he reaches the front row, a chair is placed in the central aisle, the Pope sits, a photo is taken with the gathered bishops in their places, he goes up the steps and -- Voila! -- that's a wrap.

As this tamps down significantly on episcopal preening, it's a very healthy thing.

Benedict's catecheses of late have been on the Psalms. Notably, before he begins, the Psalm which he will speak on is sung. They bring out the big guns for it, too -- the downright angelic-voiced chief cantor of St. Peter's who, like Piero Marini, is so good he's usually aired only at the papal Masses.

Given the Ratzingerian emphasis on liturgy, this attention to detail and aesthetic is to be expected. But it really does make for a superlative touch.

The most noteworthy moment of today's encounter came toward the end. No, it had nothing to do with Cardinal Schonborn being there.

After greeting the Italian-speaking pilgrims, the Pope said that "Today, we can't not recall Fr. Andrea Santoro" -- the priest of the Rome diocese murdered in Turkey on Sunday.

The simple mention of the priest's name brought the crowd to its feet for a heartfelt standing ovation, which lasted for over a minute.

Benedict said that he received a letter from the Santoro on 31 January, sent in his name and in the name of "the small Christian community of St. Mary parish in Trebisonda," where Santoro was engaged in missionary work. The Pope called the letter "a moving testimony of love and adhesion to Christ and to his Church," and then departed from his prepared text to announce that the note will be published in the coming days in the pages of L'Osservatore Romano.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar for the diocese of Rome, will celebrate Santoro's funeral liturgy on Friday morning at St. John Lateran.

The Pope concluded his own tribute by asking that the Lord "may receive the soul of this quiet and corageous servant of the Gospel, and may the sacrifice of his life contribute to the cause of dialogue among religions and peace among peoples."

AP/Gregorio Borgia