Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Sunday 17th February at 12 noon: where I will be
In January 2008, when Pope Benedict XVI was unable to visit the La Sapienza university to deliver a lecture for the inauguration of the academic year, the diocese of Rome invited the faithful, and university students in particular, to attend the Sunday Angelus in numbers the next weekend as a gesture of solidarity with the Holy Father. A video of that occasion can be found here and Pope Benedict's text here.
I very nearly flew out to Rome for the day, just to be there. But, with the flights selected on the site of a well known low cost airline who conveniently do very early and very late flights between London Stansted and Rome Ciampino, I bottled it. Instead, I sent an e-mail to a priest friend who teaches in Rome asking him to represent me in the Square.
This morning I didn't bottle it. So I expect to be in St Peter's Square for the Angelus at noon on this coming Sunday. It won't quite be Pope Benedict's last Angelus - I think he will have one more to go - but it is the nearest I can get to it. I have just e-mailed the same priest friend with a slightly different message ...
Not everyone can get this kind of enthusiasm, particularly those who hold a Christian belief but are not Roman Catholics. This was the reaction of someone I met this morning (though he did suggest that I ask Benedict XVI to intercede on behalf of Brentford who are playing Chelsea on that day). So it is worth pointing out that a trip like this is not about any kind of adulation of the human individual, Joseph Ratzinger. It arises first out of a regard for the office that Joseph Ratzinger holds, the office of Successor of St Peter and Shepherd of the Universal Church; and it is a regard that is not an un-thinking subservience but a rational and considered regard which understands deeply the nature of that office. The element of the personal in this regard comes about because of the way in which Joseph Ratzinger has fulfilled the office. It is not necessary to believe that he has done this in a way that is perfect. However, Joseph Ratzinger has fulfilled his office in a way that demonstrates a high degree of consonance between the person and the mission to which he has been called, and it is this that prompts an enthusiasm for Pope Benedict XVI. This is fundamentally a question of theology and regard for the action of grace, and not one of personality cult.