Rome Diaries - Week 96

Updated: Aug 23

January 6th, 2010

Today, in his traditional message after the Angelus, the pope reminded the crowd assembled in St. Peter’s Square that the “Eastern Kings,” although wise men of science, stopped to ask directions to get to Bethlehem. After so many years of preaching about the Epiphany, I never considered that point…and it’s a good one. High on the top floor of his living quarters, the pope seems like some well-dressed neighbor who happened to open his kitchen window for a chat. The only difference is that a world of visitors has gathered to listen. On the far side of the piazza, people are dressed in medieval costume, children are dressed as stars, maidens are in long white gowns, and a brass band accompanied by an actor who must be the spitting image of Pope Boniface VIII, have all gathered for a parade down Via Conciliatione. Boniface is represented here because the spa town of Fiuggi has sponsored some of the parade floats and this 14th century pope, who suffered from kidney stones, was the first to claim the healing properties of Fiuggi’s waters. Broken storm clouds dot a blue sky, forming the perfect backdrop for Bernini’s circle of gesturing saints. It seems a very good way to begin a year and end a decade of strife.


January 28th, 2010

About halfway to Ardea, a coastal town fifteen miles from Rome, lies the Sanctuary of Divino Amore. My city bus follows the ancient Via Ardeatina into an area of vacant pastures and crumbling medieval towers. One of these ruins holds a large fresco of the Madonna and Child, a white dove (Divine Love) hovering just above them. The fame of the place began when, in 1740, a man prayed to this image for protection during an attack by wild dogs. After this first miracle, came thousands of others, many are documented on the walls of a shrine that was built atop castle rubble in 1750: the bibs of children restored to health, photos of car crashes in which the driver survived, medals of soldiers who returned. The miraculous fresco now sits behind the shrine’s main altar, surrounded by angels and cherubs. For centuries now groups of pilgrims have set forth from Circus Maximus for their walk to the shrine. The fervor for this tradition was renewed when, during the waning days of World War II, Pope Pius XII made a pilgrimage to the Divino Amore to pray for protection from the wrath of the Nazi’s as they retreated. In solemn procession, the miraculous image was taken from its shrine and into Rome itself; the city was spared. Since this time, popes have made special mention of Divino Amore. John Paul II even declared the shrine one of the seven pilgrim churches of Holy Year 2000, replacing St. Sebastian-Outside-the-Walls. Aside from the occasional billboard, the route is of unspoiled fields. And the shrine itself is quiet since it is the off season for pilgrimages. I walk down a hill of ruins to discover the crypts of Blessed Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Blessed Maria Corsini, husband and wife. According to John Paul II’s wishes, they are entombed here to provide inspiration for families. Both were deeply involved in Roman charitable and social movements of the 20th century and the first three of the couple’s four children entered the priesthood or religious life and the last child dedicated herself to the care of her brother and aging parents. At the bottom of the hill is a modern church for large groups whose only good point is a sod roof that hides it from view. In one last look, I admire how carefully arranged most of the shrine is: the gatehouse, where the original fresco hung, now has a mosaic replica; a residence for the religious community who cares for the site has been installed in a pleasant jumble of rooms fashioned from the castle ruins, it forms a penetrable barrier for the old church in its piazza; moss-covered stone wall encircles the ensemble of buildings as if it were an ancient walled city. Before the summer crowds return, I hope to come here again.

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