By Michal John
Today I watched the Pope’s body, the media keeps calling him the Pope as though he were still hanging out with it, being borne from the Palace to Saint Peter’s Basilica. It was somber watching the procession. I wondered if the men bearing the load were tired, if their hands hurt or if their arms ached. I wondered if each of the pall bearers carried his share of the dead weight. I wondered if perhaps their blood pressure rose from having to have their arms held so high. What if one of them had a heart attack, I thought. I was sure they were proud to be carrying the Holy Man’s body and that no pain would be so great as their sorrow at his passing.
I listened to the music. The song naming all of the saints was horrible. I wondered if the song were saying these saints were there to usher the Pope into heaven. And if that were the case why would he waist his time hanging around the Basilica as the media kept implying? If I had a Free Card, Pass Jail, and go straight into God’s presence, I would use it fast before God changed his mind.
I wondered about the Latin. The interpreter was doing a great job but often you could tell she was searching for the right words. It would be hard to find an interpreter for Latin. Someone may be proficient in Latin but to translate on the fly, well there just isn’t much call for that anymore.
On one of my many visits to Rome, during a Sunday stroll past Saint Peter’s; I had the chance to hear the Pope’s voice. He was speaking, I imagined from his balcony. It felt historic and I stopped to hear him speak. I had no interest in entering St. Peter’s with such a crowd. It was historic enough just hear his voice. On my stroll I ended up in the ancient ruins of Rome built long before there ever was a Pope.
On that same trip, after touring Saint Peter’s Basilica we went to a gift shop where I purchased a rosary. I can’t tell you why a non-catholic would want a rosary but it seemed like the proper souvenir after our visit to the Vatican. An announcement came over a loudspeaker in the shop that informed us we could have our purchases blessed by the Pope. I filled out the paper with my name, hotel, and room number. It seemed only fitting that if I were to purchase a catholic item it should indeed carry the Pope’s blessing. I wondered as I sent it away if he, the Pope, would be the one who would really do the blessing or if he, the Pope, would give his authority to someone else to perform the duty. It seemed like such an odd task for a Pope.
When the rosary came back to me I held it and looked at it and wondered if it would seem different with a Pope’s blessing. I decided I was the only one who could make that adjustment in my head…faith in the object, in the Pope, in the Church and in God…well, it’s interesting to think about. And now this Pope, who blessed my rosary, which is displayed in my curio, in my office, is dead. I imagined the blessing is still functional any time I want to apply the faith.
I watched his body being carried across the courtyard with the Pope’s left foot askew, leaning a bit to the side. His feet seemed so small when contrasted with his huge robes. I wondered how such a humble man would feel about such a ceremony but it couldn’t be any other way with so many sorrowing and the weight of tradition. I watched the people who lined the procession’s path. Every arm was up taking a snapshot of the moment. Some used cell phone cameras. I wondered if I would have done the same thing. I think I would have if I were a non-catholic tourist. Why would I want a photo of a dead Pope if I were a catholic? I would be mourning, not thinking of proving to people that I was there. I would want a photo from when he was alive. Perhaps if this were the only time I had ever seen a Pope, dead or alive, and if I were a catholic, I would take a photo. It seemed weird just the same to see all of the cameras until I remembered that I too was seeing through a camera.
I suppose that by the time we see the white puff of smoke from the Vatican chimney we will all be well inculcated into Catholicism. Think of all the money the media is spending. They have all sent crews and anchorpersons to Rome. They will have to justify their expenses by keeping us focused on this historic event for weeks on end. I do recall watching a black and white television and seeing the white puff of smoke emerge with the announcement of a new Pope in Rome when I was very young. I also remember watching a colored TV with the white puff of smoke to announce the Pontification of Pope John Paul II. I assume I will see another white puff of smoke and then I will learn all about the new Pope. I will learn how old he is, where he is born, speculation on why he was chosen from amongst all of the cardinals to represent Peter, as head of the Church. I will also hear speculation on how this new Pope will affect the Church and world politics. I will find out if he fit into the small, medium, or large robes that await the dressing of the new Pope before he is presented to the world. I will hear so much that not only will I feel Irish, as all long time American’s should, but I will also feel like a baptized member of the Catholic Church. It may possibly take weeks before I am re-grounded in my skeptical view of religion…all religions.
My father was born into the Catholic Church but he knew nothing of the religion because his father hated the church. He called priests black devils and that is what my Father called them. I questioned by Father about my Grandfather’s hatred of Catholic priests and he explained to me that when a catholic dies they have to pay the priests to perform the ceremony and pay the priests to get their loved one’s soul out of purgatory. It was wrong, according to him, to exact so much money from the poor to give them peace of mind. I’m guessing there was some personal experience to fuel such angry feelings but I never knew what it was…just the one explanation. Watching the procession I wondered if this funeral was free and if there were any reasons to pay a priest to get the Pope’s soul out of purgatory. I’m still thinking there must be a Free Card for the Pope. Maybe not all Popes and maybe just for one of the Popes when there were two Popes way back when…Pope history hasn’t been so pure but everything changes and evolves…especially when you have good press.