(Venice, Italy) Pope Benedict XVI is here in Venice as I write this, and it is something special. Needless to say, security is tight, but you would not really know it; the atmosphere is tranquil and serene. It has been twenty-six years since a pope was here, John Paul II. And, of course, the previous pope, Albino Luciani, the beloved John Paul I, came from Venice; he was the Patriarch of Venice. He was in the Vatican as pope for a mere thirty-three days before he was found dead in bed. (For those interested in reading more about Pope John Paul's mysterious death, David Yallop wrote "the book that shook world" about 'the smiling pope' published in 1984 entitled In God's Name - An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul I.)
In any event, here in Venice the sun is shining and people seem genuinely pleased to see this Pope, who is, thankfully, alive and well. I was in Piazza San Marco last evening when he arrived wearing his bright red shoes. I had an excellent view of the Pope, but not of his arrival, which seemed to be something miraculous. From my limited point of view, it seemed that the waters of the lagoon were making two enormous circular waves, spirals of water that shot high into the sky, churning and spraying, as if the lagoon was parting like the Red Sea. Our faces could feel the mist. I have searched for footage, a photo, anything, but have nothing yet; if I do, I will post it in an update.
Pope Benedict seems quite relaxed, with plenty of vitality -- especially for an 84-year-old man. I feel a special affection for this pope, perhaps because my ancestry is German. The Pope was born in Bavaria, and his mother's family comes from South Tyrol in Bolzano, the region right above the Veneto. (The photo on the right is of Luca Zaia, the Governor of the Veneto, Papa, and Cardinal Angelo Scola, the current Patriarch of Venice.) As we waited for the Pope to arrive, people from all over the planet chatted with each other and sang songs. A melody of diverse languages filled Piazza San Marco with the music of humanity. I spent most of the wait in a delightful conversation with a family from the Ukraine. The father and I were about the same age. He spoke in Russian and I spoke in English while the daughters translated. We compared notes about our different upbringings, since when we were children Russia and the USA were mortal enemies. I told him about the air raid drills we would have when I was six-years-old in case Russia dropped the bomb on us. We had to troop into the school hallway, line up against the wall, crouch down into a ball, and cover our heads, as if that would protect us against the atom bomb! We both had a good laugh over the absurdity, and it was wonderful to be alive in Piazza San Marco in the present, chatting over what was once a terrifying thing in the past. When Papa finally arrived, the crowd went wild, with the French group behind me shouting, "Viva il Papa!"
The Pope is always a controversial figure, simply by the nature of his existence. After reading In God's Name, I confirmed what I had already suspected: that there is a difference between what the Vatican says and what the Pope says, and the Vatican will often try to put words in the mouth of the Pope. For example, according to Wikipedia:
Indigenous American beliefs
|Papa performs outdoor Mass in Mestre, Venezia|
"not possible to forget the suffering and the injustices inflicted by colonizers against the indigenous population, whose fundamental human rights were often trampled."
|Accademia Bridge, not Rialto!|
It's not easy being Pope:) At about midday, after the enormous Mass celebrated in Mestre on the mainland that hundreds of thousands of people attended, the Pope whizzed down the Grand Canal, which was lined with spectators all along the way. Over at Rialto, papal banners on the Hotel Rialto and the Magistrato alle Acque di Venezia (Water Authority) flapped in the breeze. A large crowd had gathered to wait, but not on the Rialto Bridge itself, which had been cleared by the police. I was sitting on the dock below my apartment from which I have been illegally evicted on several occasions. The rest of the people in my building were at their windows, with banners supporting the Pope, but my apartment remained closed and shuttered, all my possessions locked inside -- including my United States passport -- and the door changed (even though the gas and electricity are in my name!). It was quiet and sunny except for an occasional battle between the seagulls. Then, suddenly, the Pope zoomed by accompanied only by security without a Venetian boat in sight, no gondolas, no pomp, no circumstance. It was over in a flash. I thought, well, that was strange. It was surprising because the Rialto Bridge is always where everything halts, and the most spectacular show is presented. .
However, as I've been writing this blog, searching for photos, I see that over on the other side of town, there was a huge gala that normally happens at Rialto. As you can see by the photos, there were plenty of colorful Venetians surrounding Papa, raising their oars in honor. I can only think they entered the Grand Canal further down, but they were not with Papa at Rialto. To see for yourselves, the Comune of Venice has photos up on their Facebook site which you can find by clicking HERE.
In any event, I am very pleased that I actually saw the Pope here in Venice. It is amazing -- there is little need to travel outside of town to encounter the illustrious and industrious -- sooner or later, everyone seems to come here!
Ciao from Venice,