Friday, November 23, 2007

Pilgrim's Progress

It's Consistory Eve in Rome, and tomorrow's forecast calls for umbrellas.

As you can imagine, Scarlet Rain doesn't mix well with the actual liquid. But given the number of pilgrims converging from around the world, there's no contingency plan in the event of inclement weather over St Peter's Square -- where, given the usual arrangement of things, only the Pope is situated under cover.

(SVILUPPO: According to the Chronblog, plans are quickly afoot to move the consistory venue into the basilica proper.)

Tomorrow's intake included, at this hour the college of cardinals is meeting with Benedict XVI for a daylong mix of prayer and discussion. While ecumenism is slated to be the topic of the gathering's morning session, its evening agenda has been devoted to what a Vatican statement termed a "free exchange of ideas on the life of the church in general."

What constitutes "free exchange," however, rests in the eye of the beholder. Each of the cardinals may raise whatever topic they wish during the two-hour "open session," but their five-minute turns at the mic are granted according to strict order of seniority within the college. As a result, actual exchanges during the meet-up -- closed to all but the cardinals themselves -- are highly unlikely, and only the Pope can speak at will.

After Papa Ratzi, first in rank is the Cardinal-Dean, the retired Secretary of State Angelo Sodano, who marks his 80th birthday today.

The 23 cardinals-designate find themselves at the back of the speaking line... not that they should hold their breath. With the Pope's "Senate" now numbering over 200 members, even veteran red-hats didn't get to speak at the last of the meetings, held before the March 2006 consistory. And this time, the queue'll be longer still.

* * *

On this feast of St Clement, Cardinal-designate Dan DiNardo of Galveston-Houston reserved the Clementine Chapel in the Vatican Grottoes (beneath St Peter's Basilica) for what was supposed to be a private early morning Mass for a close circle of family and friends....

That is, until a dozen natives crashed the venue.

Ever the pastor, DiNardo changed his initial plan in deference to the surprise guests, celebrating the liturgy half in English, half in Latin, similarly switching off between English and Italian during his homily.

Three concelebrants were present, among them his fellow minutante from their days in the Curia, now Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre. Meanwhile, just footsteps away, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh celebrated a slightly more public Mass for the diocese's Roman seminarians at the altar before the tomb of St Peter.

* * *

Last night, a crowd of around 150 converged on Villa Richardson -- the residence of the US' Ambassador to the Holy See -- for a reception honoring the American designates. All of the Stateside cardinals were in attendance except Cardinals Adam Maida of Detroit, who canceled his travel plans at the last minute due to illness, and the Jesuit legend Avery Dulles, who's grown increasingly infirm in recent months and has been advised against extensive travel despite his wishes.

While DiNardo was swamped with well-wishers at his first major function of the week, Cardinal-designate John Foley only put in a brief appearance. Said to be battling a touch of the flu, Philadelphia's cardinal-to-be -- who's kept a low profile in the run-up to the main events -- made a quick getaway to rest up.

Early this morning, a planeload of Foley pilgrims -- the main phalanx from the River City -- touched down in triumph at Fiumicino.

Picture how Red Sox Nation reacted when The Curse was broken and, well, there's the scene in a nutshell... and rightfully so.

* * *

Barring a wild downpour, St Peter's Square is expected to be about 40% full for tomorrow's consistory and Sunday's Ring Mass.

Prior to 1998's batch of new cardinals, the first of the dual ceremonies was held in the 6,000-seat Paul VI Hall, until the pilgrimages eventually outgrew the Vatican's largest indoor space. (It should be noted that no outdoor consistory has ever taken place amidst rainfall.)

All told, the number of American pilgrims tops out at around 1,200. Much larger delegations, though, are coming from Europe, particularly the Parisian flock of Cardinal-designate Andre Vingt-Trois and, even moreso, the anticipated crush of Genovesi celebrating the elevation of their archbishop, Cardinal-designate Angelo Bagnasco.

Named to Genoa last year in succession to the Secretary of State, Bagnasco also serves as the president of the Italian episcopal conference, the CEI.

* * *

Lastly, one of the sweetest moments of these last three years came early on Red Dawn when, in a pre-dawn phone call, I was able send a priest of Pittsburgh the heads-up that the Pope was about to name his best friend of 45 years to the Sacred College.

Without skipping a beat, Fr Lou Vallone replied that he "never thought our church was that smart."

A few minutes later, His Eminence called.

Given the out-of-the-woodwork feeding frenzy that invariably surrounds the newest crop of red hats, keeping the center of the orbit on-schedule is no mean task. To that end, DiNardo tapped the ponytailed, Harley-riding, scuba-diving pastor of two suburban Steel City parishes (who teaches canon law and preaches Black church revivals as time permits), to informally fulfill the duties that once earned their holder the moniker "master of the cardinalatial household" -- or, as he put it, the one whose job it is "to start looking miserable when Dan needs to get moving" to his next commitment.

Vallone's meditation to his parishioners on the "Cardinal of the South" was posted here shortly after the announcement. But this week, 'tail pulled back, a Harley sweater over his collar, Lou -- shown above with DiNardo at the Piazza's edge on Wednesday -- has become the toast of the Houston media, simply by being Lou.

With most of his trip devoted to aiding the new Porporato, he's only got one "personal" item on the agenda: a Mass over the tomb of his parish's patroness, St Catherine of Siena, to be offered for its people. Just as on announcement morning, however, the Quote of this Day is Vallone's, this time given to the H-Town Chronicle.

"From here on in," he said, his best friend "is a prince of the church, which impresses everyone but him."