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Rome Diaries - Week 77

April 11, 2009

Just off Via Laurentia, near the site of St. Paul’s martyrdom and on property cleverly regained by the Trappists after they agreed to plant thousands of balsamic eucalyptus trees to combat malaria, is a grotto where Mary appeared to three children and their anti-Catholic father who was preparing to assassinate Pope Pius XII, the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Revelation. It is an unpretentious place but, today, preparations are being made for the apparition’s anniversary, which occurred on the 12th of April in 1947. Bruno Cornacchiola was an impressionable young man who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). When he returned to Italy, he wanted nothing to do with the Catholic Church and, in fact, bought a knife and had engraved upon it his personal war cry: “Death to the Pope!” He took his children to the Park of Eucalyptus for a picnic and to get the peace and quiet he needed to prepare a speech he planned to give the next day. He’d gotten as far as: "Our Lady is not a virgin, is not immaculate, is not the ‘Lady of the Assumption’," when he heard a cry from one of his children, they’d lost their ball. When he got to them, Bruno was stunned to find his three children transfixed before the blankness of cave murmuring, “Beautiful lady, beautiful lady.” He could see nothing and he could not snap them out of their trance. “God, save us!” he cried. That unconscious prayer was enough to let him in on the same vision of Mary as his children. Eventually, Bruno Cornacchiola heard these words:

I am she who is with the Holy Trinity. I am Virgin of the Revelation. You have persecuted me, enough now. Enter into the heavenly fold, which is the Heavenly Court on Earth. God's' promise is and remains unchanged: you are saved for having observed the First Nine Fridays dedicated to the Sacred Heart. You observed them prompted by your faithful loving spouse before you started on your erring ways.

He was converted on the spot, just like a modern-day St. Paul. The miracles began at once. Word was that the earth around the grotto had miraculous powers. About ten years before the apparition, Pius XII, then the Vatican’s Secretary of State, had met a visionary who saw Mary at the same spot. He was informed at the time that the apparition predicted he would be pope and an assassination attempt would be made on him, but that Mary would return to this same spot and convert the assassin. The pope, it seems, had been expecting someone like Bruno Cornacchiola ever since his papal election. In February 1982, a month before John Paul II’s own assassination attempt, Mary again appeared to Bruno at the grotto; she again gave her warning and promised her protection; the pope was informed of the prediction. During this vision (and during another two years before) all those assembled saw the sun dance in the sky, as it had during the apparitions at Fatima. This generated new support and additional building at the shrine. Today, a small paper sign announces that a prayer vigil for the anniversary would be held on the evening of April 12th (tomorrow). A few hundred motley-colored plastic chairs are stacked by an outdoor altar, but the gift shop is still locked and the grotto chapel holds just a handful of visitors. I spend some time scanning bulletin boards filled with notices about the area’s many opportunities for Marian devotions in the next few weeks. A flyer lists all the pilgrimages available from Rome to Medjugorje this year. From a previous visit, I recall the circular walk just behind and then through the side of the grotto. It is filled with inspirational sayings from the popes who have come to the shrine as well as beautiful words by peace-loving non-Catholics like Albert Schweitzer and Martin Luther King. Pictures and letters of those who have received a blessing from the Virgin of Revelation line a corridor passing through the cave. They will remain there until completely ravaged by wind and water; other remembrances will take their place. More than any other shrine I have visited, this one shows itself as open to the great and the small, the fervent soul and the cool philosopher, as if Mary, just out of sight, is available to every wandering soul who drops in.

April 21, 2009

To celebrate Rome’s birthday “on the day,” I visit Campidoglio, the Town Square of Rome, and find my way into Palazzo Nuova where the rector of the Pontifical Lateran University is celebrating Mass. The day also coincides with the ninth centenary of the death of St. Anselm (1033-1109). Born in the Italian Alps, eventually Anselm became abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Le Bec in Normandy, where he fostered a brand of logical thinking now known as “scholasticism” and where he became adept at protecting the rights of the Church. When Anselm was made Archbishop of Canterbury (Normandy was part of England at the time), he made every effort to speak out against any overstepping of the boundaries between church and state on the part of King William, son of “The Conqueror.” This fact is alluded to in today’s homily; the rector quotes from a letter written by Pope Benedict XVI for Anselm’s the anniversary celebration:

Appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and beginning, in this way, his most troubled journey, his "love of truth" (Epistola 327), his uprightness, his strict loyalty to conscience, his "Episcopal freedom" (Ep. 206), his " Episcopal honesty" (Ep. 314), his tireless work for the liberation of the Church from the temporal conditionings and from the servitude of calculations that are incompatible with his spiritual nature will appear in their full light. His words to King Henry remain exemplary in this respect, "I reply that in neither baptism nor in any other ordination that I have received, did I promised to observe the law or the custom of your father or of the Archbishop Lanfranco, but the law of God and of all the orders received" (Ep. 319). For Anselm, the primate of the Church of England, one principle applies: "I am a Christian, I am a monk, I am a Bishop: I desire to be faithful to all, according to the debt I have with each" (Ep. 314). In this vein he does not hesitate to say: "I prefer to be in disagreement with men than, agreeing with them, to be in disagreement with God" (Ep. 314). Precisely for this reason he feels ready even for the supreme sacrifice: "I am not afraid to shed my blood, I fear no wound in my body nor the loss of any material good" (Ep. 311).

It’s no accident that Anselm should be brought out to do service on the Birthday of Rome, the battle between Church and State continues on the Campidoglio as it has here, to a greater or lesser degree, for 2000 years. It seems true that, for the important things, you really can’t serve two masters.

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