n this time of year in which people think of all things romantic, Pope Francis delivered a message earlier this week (Monday, February 3) regarding Rome. One may ask, “What is the connection?” We often forget that terms such as romantic, romance, etc. derive from Rome. People learn the Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian being the primary ones); they are called that not because they are the “languages of love” (Corporal Lebeau from “Hogan’s Heroes” not withstanding), but because they have their origin in Latin, the language of the Roman Empire.
The Holy Father was at celebrations of Rome becoming the capital of Italy 150 years ago. Considering the hostility between the government of Italy and the Holy See when this occurred (which resulted in the pope being the “prisoner of the Vatican” from 1870 to 1922), it was interesting to have him participate.
Pope Francis began his speech by addressing that difficult beginning. He quoted the future St. Paul VI (at the time Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini), who in 1962 said about the events of 1870, “It seemed like a collapse; and for the pontifical territorial dominion it was. But Providence, as we now see well, had arranged things differently, almost dramatically playing in the events” (he was saying that although it was the end of the Papal States, it actually worked out well in the long run, thanks to the hidden plan of God). Pope Francis then added, “The proclamation of Rome as Capital was a providential event, which at the time caused controversy and problems. But Rome, Italy and the Church itself changed: a new history began.”
Then, to quote another predecessor, he said, “Over these 150 years, Rome has grown and changed greatly, ‘from a homogeneous human milieu to a multiracial community where, in addition to the Catholic view of life, there coexist views inspired by other religious creeds and even by non-religious concepts of existence’ (St. John Paul II, in an address at the Rome city hall on the Capitoline Hill, Jan. 15, 1998). The Church, in this affair, has shared the joys and sorrows of the Romans. I would like, almost as an example, to recall at least three moments of this rich common history.”
The pope’s meditation on the recent history of Rome, Italy (as opposed to Rome in the empire or Rome in the Papal States) might be a good model for us to use as communities in our area begin to celebrate the 400th anniversary of English settlements here in Massachusetts.
The first “moment” about which the pontiff spoke was the Nazi occupation of the city in 1943 and 1944. “From 16 October 1943, the terrible persecution for the deportation of the Jews developed. It was the Shoah experienced in Rome. At that time, the Church was an asylum for the persecuted: ancient barriers and painful distances fell. From those difficult times, let us first of all draw the lesson of the everlasting fraternity between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community, which I reaffirmed in my visit to the Major Temple in Rome. We are also convinced, with humility, that the Church represents a resource of humanity in the city. And Catholics are called to live the life of Rome with passion and responsibility, especially its most painful aspects.”
The pope then jumped ahead and spoke about “the years of Vatican Council II, from 1962 to 1965, when the city welcomed the council fathers, ecumenical observers and many others. Rome shone as a universal, Catholic, ecumenical space. It became a universal city of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, of peace. One saw how much the city meant for the Church and for the whole world. Because, as the German scholar Theodor Mommsen recalled at the end of the 19th century: ‘one is not without cosmopolitan intentions in Rome.’” The pope did not mean the sensual intuitions of “Cosmopolitan” magazine, but a concern for the entire universe (the cosmos).
The third time period Pope Francis mentioned might not be as well known to us. “The third moment that I would like to remember is typically diocesan, but it touched the city: the so-called conference on the ‘evils of Rome’ in February 1974, at the behest of the then-Cardinal Vicar Ugo Poletti. In well-attended assemblies of the people, the expectations of the poor and the peripheries were heard. There, it was a question of universality, but in the sense of the inclusion of the peripheries. The city must be home to everyone. It is a responsibility today, too: today’s suburbs are afflicted by too many miseries, inhabited by great loneliness and poor in terms of social networks.”
Addressing the Rome of today and of the future, the pope said, “There is a demand for inclusion written in the lives of the poor and those who, as immigrants and refugees, see Rome as a port of salvation. Often their eyes, incredibly, see the city with more expectation and hope than we Romans who, because of the many daily problems we face, look at it in a pessimistic way, as if it were destined to decline. No, Rome is a great resource of humanity! Rome can and must renew itself in the twofold sense of openness to the world and the inclusion of all. The jubilees also stimulate this, and that of 2025 is no longer far away.”
We could substitute our own city or town for Rome in what the pope said next. “We cannot live in Rome ‘with our heads down,’ each in his own circuits and commitments. [W]e need a common vision. Rome will live its universal vocation, only if it becomes an increasingly fraternal city. Yes, a fraternal city! John Paul II, who loved Rome so much, often quoted a Polish poet: ‘If you say Rome, love answers you.’ It is that love that does not make people live for themselves, but for others and with others.”
He added, “Such a vision is written in the chromosomes of Rome. At the end of his pontificate, St. Paul VI said: ‘Rome is unity, and not only of the Italian people, but heir to the ideal typical of civilization as such and as the center, still today, of the Catholic Church, that is, universal’ (July 9, 1978). Often forgetfulness of history is accompanied by meager hope for a better tomorrow and resignation in building it. Taking on the memory of the past inspires us to live a common future. On the international scene, full of conflict, Rome could be a city of encounter: ‘Rome speaks to the world of brotherhood, harmony and peace,’ said Paul VI (ibid.). With such feelings and hopes, I express my fervent wishes for the future of the city and its inhabitants.”
Although we do not live in cosmopolitan capital cities, we do live in cities and towns where there are people with origins from various lands, people from various religions (or no religion at all), people from various economic strata. Christ calls us to see in these people our brothers and sisters and to have fraternal love for them. This might not be the “romantic” love February 14 conjures up, but it is essential for our municipalities to truly be “home.”