Sunday, May 04, 2008

Ascension and Action

The Vatican might've already marked Ascension, but the Pope took the pastoral tack this morning and meditated on it at the noontime Regina Caeli... which today brought him down into the Square as it took on the feel of an "open-air cenacle":
[T]he pontiff emphasised the value of today's feast, the Ascension of Christ to heaven and his "return to the Father" with his and our humanity. "He", the pope explains, "in fact came to the world to bring men back to God, not on the level of ideas - like a philosopher or master of wisdom - but really, as a shepherd who wants to lead his sheep back to the fold . . . It is for us that he came down from Heaven, and it is for us that he ascended there after making himself like men in all things, humiliated to the point of death on the cross, and after touching the abyss of the greatest separation from God".

"God in man - man in God" are "not a theoretical truth, but a real one", an anchor for the life of all men. "And what does man need more in every age if not this: a solid anchoring for his existence?

"After the Ascension", the pope further recalled, "the first disciples remained gathered together in the Cenacle around the Mother of Jesus, in fervent expectation of the gift of the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus (cf. Acts 1:14)". From this arises the invitation "to remain united together in prayer, to invoke the gift of the Holy Spirit. In fact, only to those who 'are born again from above', meaning from the Holy Spirit, is opened the entrance to the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Jn. 3:3-5), and the first one 'born again from above' is precisely the Virgin Mary"....
["New Pentecost... New Pentecost...."]
He then urged all to mission in society: "In a missionary Church, placed before an educational emergency like the one found in Italy today, you who love and serve it should be tireless announcers and prepared, generous educators; in a Church called to trials of faithfulness that are sometimes very demanding, and tempted to adaptation, you must be courageous and prophetic witnesses of the radical nature of the Gospel; in a Church that faces the relativistic, hedonistic, and consumerist mentality on a daily basis, you must be able to make more room for rationality under the banner of a faith that is the friend of intelligence, both in the area of popular mass culture, and in that of more elaborate and reflective research; in a Church that calls [you] to the heroism of sanctity, respond without fear, always trusting in the mercy of God".
After leading the Rosary yesterday at St Mary Major, B16 greeted Rome's newly-elected mayor, Gianni Alemanno -- the first rightist to hold the post since World War II after being swept to office last week:
On April 28th Mr Alemanno, once a youth leader of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI), was elected mayor of Rome, with 54% of the vote over Franco Rutelli, a deputy prime minister in the outgoing centre-left government. Silvio Berlusconi, the incoming prime minister, called it an “historic victory”. The centre-left had run Rome since 1993.

But the celebrations after Mr Alemanno's victory revived memories of an earlier period when the right was in charge of Rome. A group of supporters gave straight-arm salutes on the Capitol steps; some roared “Duce! Duce!”, the title that Benito Mussolini took for himself when he was Italy's fascist dictator.

Mr Alemanno is no ordinary conservative. He once spent eight months in jail, accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail at the Soviet embassy, a charge of which he was acquitted. His father-in-law is a hardline neo-fascist who rejected the MSI's decision in the 1990s to form the core of a new party, the National Alliance. Mr Alemanno endorsed that move, but became part of the Alliance's most radical faction. He has sat in parliament for 14 years and served uncontroversially in Mr Berlusconi's previous cabinet. He is as entitled to be judged on his performance as was Rome's previous mayor, Walter Veltroni, once the Communists' youth leader.

Even so, Mr Alemanno's policies may prove controversial. In an interview in La Stampa, he said his first move would be to seek the demolition of 85 unlicensed Roma [gypsy] encampments. He ran on a hardline law-and-order programme, including a pledge to expel 20,000 allegedly criminal foreigners. His triumph, like that of the anti-immigrant Northern League in last month's general election, reflects rising concern over crime, which is often blamed on non-Italians. A poll this week found that, in the past 12 months, the proportion of Italians who viewed immigrants with mistrust had almost doubled to over 11% (though the attitude of 42% remains benign).
In a telegram sent to the Pope minutes after his election, the new mayor pledged his government's cooperation with the church "for the good of all."

Prior to the Pope's appearance, the gathering of Catholic Action in the Square held Mass on the Basilica steps led by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa.

Suffice it to say, the guys came all decked out...

...and if that ain't Italy for you, nothing is.

PHOTO: AFP/Getty; Reuters(2-3)