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Rome Notes: Pope at the Piazza, "Sidelined" Liturgy, Congressmen Call

A Message of Peace on Solemnity of Immaculate Conception

By Delia Gallagher

ROME, DEC. 11, 2003 (Zenit) - Monday was the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is a national holiday in Italy and an important day for Romans who get to see their bishop, the Pope, crown the statue of Mary at the foot of the Spanish Steps in the center of the city.

Thousands of people lined the narrow street of the Via Condotti, famous for its designer shops, and spilled out onto the Piazza di Spagna, snaking around the fountain and up the wide staircase of the Spanish Steps.

The space reserved for journalists is close to the statue, for a better view of John Paul II, but I chose to forsake the view to stand one among the crowd -- the experience of seeing the Pope alongside genuine enthusiasts is uplifting.

We waited for an hour in the cold, clear evening. There were Roman women in expensive furs, babies wrapped up tightly in their prams, clusters of young nuns and many teen-agers. Shopkeepers came to their doors, while above them, chic designers opened the balcony windows of their expensive ateliers and leaned out into the cold air. A young boy next to me clambered up onto a statue, despite the protests of his father, for a better view.

As it turned out, all were rewarded with a close-up view of their Pope who made the 15-minute journey from the Vatican in his popemobile, covered only by a protective sheet of light plastic, the corners of which flopped in the wind.

The space being so narrow, it was possible to reach out and touch the plastic, though none one dared.

The Pope looked great, if one can say that about a Pope (I do only because I am constantly asked, How is he, really?). He held his head strongly upright, waving his arm occasionally and smiling.

Next year will be the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pius IX's proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, 1854. The statue in Piazza di Spagna was erected on that occasion: a bronze of the Virgin Mary surmounted on a very tall column, at its base are statues of the prophets Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel and David.

At the statue, the Pope invoked the Queen of Peace: "Hear the cry of pain of the victims of war and of the many forms of violence that bloody the earth."

"Give men and women of the third millennium," the Pope continued, "the precious gift of peace: peace in hearts and in families, in communities and among people; peace above all for those nations where, every day, fighting and death continue."

In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the World Day of the Sick will be held in Lourdes, France, on Feb. 11.

John Paul II, in a message to Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers and organizer of the event, remembered Mary's words at Lourdes, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

In this same message, the Pope also encouraged the work of genetic engineering, referring to the "extraordinary possibility that science today offers to intervene at the very font of life."

"Every authentic progress in this field," he added, "cannot but be encouraged, provided that it always respects the rights and the dignity of the person from his conception."


Mindful of Liturgical Abuses

Two more anniversaries have been celebrated recently: the 100th anniversary of the Pope St. Pius X's letter "Tra le Sollecitudini" on sacred music and the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's promulgation of Vatican II's constitution on the sacred liturgy, "Sacrosanctum Concilium."

On the latter, John Paul II has issued an apostolic letter in which he suggests, as he has in the past, "an examination of conscience regarding the reception of the Second Vatican Council."

With regard to liturgy, the Pope wrote, it seems to have been "sidelined in a widely secularized society."

"One aspect that needs to be cultivated with greater attention in our communities is the experience of silence," he said.

"It is not by chance that outside of Christianity, the practice of meditation, which places importance on concentrated attention, is diffuse," the Holy Father added. "Why not start, with bold pedagogy, a specific education to silence within the parameters of the Christian experience?"

The Pope specifically called on pastors to be attentive to abuses in the liturgy.

"Not respecting liturgical norms culminates sometimes in even grave abuses that place the truth of the mystery in the shadows and create discontent and tension among the People of God," he wrote. "Such abuses have nothing to do with the authentic spirit of the Council and should be ...

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