Rome Diaries - Week 65

Updated: Dec 19, 2021

From 2006 to 2011 Paulist Father Tom Holahan served as vice rector of the Paulist church in Rome. During that time he had the opportunity to spend time exploring the historic sites of Rome as well as the hidden ones. The blog features excerpts from this travel diary. A new selection appears each week.

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December 8, 2008


Each morning on this date, Rome’s firefighters drive a hook and ladder to the ancient pillar in Piazza di Spanga and unceremoniously crown the statue of the Immaculate Conception atop it. This is done in preparation for a late afternoon presentation of roses by the pope. More than just piety is happening here. When Pius IX erected the column and its statue in 1854, it was a way of demonstrating his own spiritual authority in an age of revolutions, which would slowly, but inevitably, take away his temporal powers. Marian devotion was bolstered in 1858 with the pope’s promotion of the image of Our Lade of Perpetual Help and his endorsement of Mary’s apparitions at Lourdes. On the tenth anniversary of the declaration of the Immaculate Conception (1864), Pius IX issued Syllabus of Errors, a sort of papal broadside against society’s desire to make human reason the measure of all things and to give the Church no foothold in modern society. By 1870, during the First Vatican Council, it was deemed necessary to strengthen the pope’s authority again with a declaration of papal infallibility, which has since been formally invoked only once, in 1954, regarding the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Today’s remarks by the pope have a mellow tone; he calls Mary “the smile of God.” But his final prayer still echoes a reproach for the unattained goals of modern society:


Mary, teach us to show solidarity towards those in difficulty, to bridge the ever-increasing social disparities; help us to cultivate a more lively sense of the common good, of respect for the common well-being, and to make our contribution for a more just and united society. Your beauty ensures us that the victory of love is possible, indeed that it is certain. It assures us that grace is stronger than sin and that hence redemption from any form of slavery is possible… Be a loving mother to our young people, that they may have the courage to be “sentinels of the morrow” and give this virtue to all Christians that they may become the soul of the world at this difficult moment of history.


December 13, 2008

This evening I have dinner with a Benedictine nun who is beginning her PhD in spirituality. She’s a “jogging nun” from the U.S., which shocks the cloistered group of sisters she boards with while in Rome. Her community of nuns decided not to wear religious garb years ago, but in Rome something possessed her to stich her own Benedictine habit while here. She wore it on her first day at the theological college and was greeted with, “Oh, you must be a Benedictine.” It’s been her uniform ever since. This city does not let you escape your history, it pulls you back into it, for better or worse.


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