Senza governo, Senza Papa

Roma: senza governo, senza Papa.

This week Roman official positions got a little lonely. A national election failed to produce a majority party to occupy the government. Oops? So, as of now, the country operates without an official government. A new third party in Italian politics is making things a bit skrewy as far as elections go. And, as my Ancient Roman History professor says, “Eh, so we don’t know what will happen to the gobbernoment” (shoulder shrug). Somehow, at least at of the end of this week, life has managed to go on.

The other departure came from the Holy See. Yes, the Vatican and the entire Catholic Church/world is Pope-less. Pope-less, not hopeless. Hopefully. I hope. Ok, I’m done. On Thursday, February 28th – leap day – Pope Benedict XVI abdicated the Papacy. News crews and Cardinals alike have been flocking to Rome. Also nuns, I swear I’ve seen more nuns this week than in my entire life.

On Thursday, to wave Pope Benedict farewell, we moseyed over to St. Peter’s square to watch his helicopter leave the Vatican at the 4:55pm appointed hour. We weren’t alone. I wouldn’t say droves, but a sizeable crowd conglomerated in the square to watch huge screens show Benedict exit his Papal apartments, enter a car, ride to the helipad, and gesture goodbyes and blessings on the Cardinals and faithful everywhere watching the video reel. We stood under his helicopter as it flew over St. Peter’s Square (you can see it here). We watched him take a last tour over the city with his Papal powers in tact – Benedict supposedly sending prayers down to blanket Rome and its occupants.

I thought this would be a historical event, uncanny and unprecidented. I thought I should be there to say that I was there. What I didn’t expect was the strange emotional atmosphere, the investment that occurred. The scene was melancholy, yet happy. We clapped for Benedict. People were crying. Everyone was quiet, a bit somber. I just kept thinking what contrasting emotions he must feel. To leave the Papacy out of love. Is there a sense of failure? Of peace? Of relief? I can’t know. Anyway, Rome is now “senza Papa” or “without Pope.” Now, the expectation begins.

Today, Katie and I toured the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill with our trusty Rick Steves. Tell ya what, he’s a riot. We walked around, imagining ourselves toga-ed senators, Vestal Virgins, Caesar conspirators, etc. We read all the history, yet the context and actual history is unconceivable to me. Today, I saw where Julius Caesar was burned. They still place fresh flowers on the site. Today, I saw huts where Romulus supposedly lived. That’s around 750BC. What? Those kinds of timespans cannot fit into my head.

Oh, and yesterday I saw St. Paul’s tomb at St. Paul beyond the walls, St. Paul’s cathedral. Under the high altar is St. Paul’s excavated sarcophagus. You kneel and say a prayer. There, with St. Paul. With his actual remains.

Actual remains. That is what it boils down to, what actually remains. Palatine Hill – actual remains of Roman rulers’s homes. The primary king’s hut. Vivid colored frescos inside of Augustus’s house. The Forum – actual remains of the Senate, Caesar’s pyre, triumphal arches. Actually remaining. St. Paul, a Catholic and Christian figure of complete revere, actually there, before you, bones, something biological, physical. Something so material to such a spiritual religious idea.

And, Rome. Senza governo, still remaining. Because Rome is not government, it is history, and places, and, really, the people. Senza Papa, actual remains. Because the Catholic Church, the Vatican, the world of believers, is not the Pope. It is more; it remains.

And, it makes me think that somehow we must remain too – in someway, hopefully, in a context beyond ourselves, when the place is senza you or senza me, something of ourselves should actually remain. So, remain.

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