April 12th, 2011
This evening, at an apartment near the Milvian Bridge, I have a Lenten Mass and dinner with a few couples from the parish. The host is an actor who has recently played the part of Saint Francis of Assisi in a film. He has, however, un-Franciscan thoughts: “Why has Italy lost its place on the world scene,” he wonders. “The great explorers, the grand empire...today Italy has a ‘closed mind’ to the rest of the world!” Another husband, who came on his motorcycle and a dressed in an impeccable suit, provides a counterpoint. He seems constantly amused by his actor friend. “Soon he will take out his smartphone and show you something,” he says. And, as if on cue, the other man runs out of the room to get the device and then shows me what looks like a swirling haze of light. “Each one of those points is a galaxy. This shows every galaxy visible from earth!” he declares enthusiastically. A little later his wife, with a wry smile, tells me, “He also can distinguish between hundreds of olive oils, solves physics problems for a hobby and loves Bach. As you might imagine, our son hates Bach.”
April 13th, 2011
It isn’t often that I’m taken by surprise by a holy card, but it happens this morning at the marriage office of the Rome diocese. The card depicts a doll-like figure dressed in a light blue nighty and lying under and gold starburst. “Bambino?” I ask, thinking it’s the baby Jesus. “No,” comes the replies the nun behind the desk, “Bambina.” The blue is not for a boy but for Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Most versions of the infant Mary can be traced to a miraculous wax figure created in 1735 by Sister Isabella Chiara Fornari of the Poor Clares in Todi, a medieval town about sixty miles from Rome. For over two hundred and fifty years the original “Maria Bambina” has resided in a Poor Clare convent in Milan. By the end of the 19th century the wax had discolored and the bambina, no longer lovely, was only shown during the first week of September (the octave of the Nativity of Mary). But then something happened, four nuns in the monastery were cured when the wax figure was taken to them. After this, not even the destruction of the monastery during World War II could stop devotion to the bambina. In 1953 it was solemnly enshrined in the new monastery and awaits the public daily from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM.