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Rome Diaries - Week 114

December 9th, 2010


Yesterday our cook confided, “I want to be a pilgrim.” In part, the journey was to seek a healing for a painful circulation problem in her legs. That evening she joined a candlelight procession of 2000 people who walked through the night to celebrate a dawn Mass at the Sanctuary of Divino Amore. No cure was delivered but that made no difference. It was a beautiful night for walking and singing in the dark.


December 16th, 2010




I visit the beloved Street Cleaners’ Nativity Scene, situated a few hundred yards from the walls of the Vatican at Via dei Cavalleggeri, 5. It is “precious” in the best sense of the word: Fragments of St. Peter’s colonnade have been donated by cardinals, wood from the Franciscans of Bethlehem and the smoke coming out of the chimneys is incense. Miniature evergreens and bonsai dot the courtyards and surrounding hills of this perfectly reproduced Palestinian village. Rushing waters of rivers and aqueducts wind through the scene. As I am admiring the work, Giuseppe Ianni comes over to me, beaming, “I began building this 39 years ago,” he tells me. Although over two million people have visited this Nativity scene (it is on permanent display), I am the only one right now and get a tour of the picture gallery showing visits from Mother Teresa and the twenty-four visits of Pope John Paul II. He came each year until his declining health prevented it. A special portfolio includes the ghost image of a ciborium filled consecrated hosts that had been placed in the display’s cave of the Nativity during Mass. A miracle? Mr. Ianni moves his hand from side to side...could be! Another object, a stone which St. Rita of Cascia had knelt upon, has the outline of the Madonna and Child, if you look close, in the right light. All who visit are given a memento: a tiny bundle of sticks (fascina) from the Mediterranean tree used for street sweeping brooms. Mine is nestled under the head of the Christ child in my own manger scene; he looks content, happy about street cleaners whose vision inspired everyone from popes to school kids.



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