The Book about Jesus

What is the Pope doing? He is thinking, and writing, about Jesus…

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome

Thinking of Fatima

Today is the anniversary, after 92 years, of the mysterious “miracle of the sun” on October 13, 1917, seen by tens of thousands of people, many of them skeptics, in Fatima, Portugal.

Computer Assistance

My flight back to Rome was a bit like a scene out of a spy film.

As I walked down the passageway toward the plane, I was still talking to my assistant on my cell phone (I still use a cell phone even though I think it is beginning to make my ear ache a bit).

A voice spoke into my ear.

“Do you want me to see if there may be any empty seats on your flight so you can possibly have a little more room?” my assistant asked me.

“How can you do that?” I said into the phone.

“I’ll look up the flight seating chart on my computer, if it hasn’t been blocked yet, so close to flight time,” she replied. “What’s your flight number?”

“But the flight is about to leave,” I said. “Isn’t it too late to make a change?”

“Not to make a change!” she said. “Just to see what’s empty…”

I told her the flight number. Moments later, as I stepped from the passageway onto the plane, she said, “I’ve got the whole seating plan right here on my computer screen.”

“You do?”

“Yes. What’s your seat number?”

“My ticket says… 31G. On the far aisle…”

By now I was on the plane, pulling my bag with one hand and cupping the cell phone to my ear with the other.

“Hmmm,” she said into my ear. “No luck. All the seats in that row are filled. But here’s something… Rows 17 and 18 are completely empty!”

I was down to row 10 by then, easing my way between the seats. I looked ahead. She was right. Rows 17 and 18 were empty.

“What do you think?” I said. Now I was whispering into my phone.

“Well, they are marked on my screen as open,” she said. “I’d try it. You might get to lie down and sleep on the flight.”

I went by 17. I hesitated, then sat down in 18, in the center section, one seat in.

“Anyone else sitting down near you?” she asked in my ear.

“Not yet,” I whispered.

A minute later the stewardesses closed and locked the airplane doors. The last passengers took their seats. The two seats to my left and one to my right remained empty.

“Wow,” I whispered into the phone. “You won’t believe this: I’ve got a whole row!”

“My gift to you,” she said. “We call that ‘a poor person’s First Class.’ Have a good trip. Get some rest. And when you get to Rome, write!”

Broken Doors

On the train coming in from Fiumicino, I noticed that four of the train doors were broken. I had to walk through two cars to get off.

My first impression: that Italy seems to be letting its trains run down a bit.

The weather is cool and clear, brilliant sun, perfect sky.

Yesterday, the taxi driver told me, it rained heavily. That cleared the air, rinsed it, left it pure — typical for October, the best month of the year in Rome.

In October in Rome, the air aches with the end of summer and the onset of a winter quickly growing closer, but not yet here…

I was able to charge my Italian cell phone, call a couple of friends in the Vatican — I dialed 06-6982, and that brought me to the Vatican switchboard, and the nuns patched me through to each of the monsignors I asked for — and I was able to set up some interesting meetings for the next few days.

I then dropped by the offices of H20 News and spoke with my old friend, Jesus Colina, a Spaniard from Burgos, who has become one of the leading Vatican journalists in the world.

“The Pope will be spending the next few months finishing his second book on Jesus,” Jesus said.

A Book to Meditate On

On the airplane, I had begun to re-read the Pope’s first book about Jesus, published two years ago, in 2007 (Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration).

It is a profound, powerful book, and it came to me that I should read it carefully, and comment on it in these newsflashes.

After all, the true “center” of the Holy See, the true “heart” of the Vatican, what is truly “inside the Vatican,” beyond all the human failings, and even betrayals, is Jesus.

That is the essential.

So I plan to give you a close commentary on the Pope’s book on Jesus in coming weeks, so that all of us will be more prepared to read the second volume when it comes out in the spring.

A No-Holds-Barred Meeting

I then met with my staff, a group of excellent writers, photographers, and graphic designers with whom I have been privileged to be associated for almost 18 years now.

We went over the main questions we want to be studying and writing about in coming issues of the magazine:

1) the Synod on Africa, occurring in Rome now (including the much-discussed possibility that the next Pope could possibly be from Africa)

2) the negotiations between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X (the Lefebvrists), expected to get underway here in Rome in the next few days;

3) the theological discussion between the Orthodox and Roman Catholics (60 theologians, 30 from each side) which will be held during the second half of October on the island of Cyprus (October 16-23);

4) the direction the Vatican’s bank may take under its new leadership

5) the future of Catholic-Jewish relations in the context of some recent tensions, and the announcement that the Pope will soon visit the Synagogue of Rome, as Pope John Paul II did in 1986

6) the continuation of the Pope’s liturgical reform, his effort to restore a sense of the sacred in Catholic liturgical life

7) the possibility, widely rumored now, that the Vatican is preparing to issue a warning to the faithful regarding the nearly 30 years of claimed apparitions of Our Lady at Medjugorge

8) the reasons for the apparent appreciation by some in Rome of US President Barack Obama’s November 2008 election, and recent Nobel Peace Prize award, despite the concern expressed by many American Catholics about policies Obama supports which are opposed to Church teaching

We discussed each of these matters at length, and others besides, and we often disagreed quite strongly on particular points.

But we are free to disagree. Our editorial team wishes to get at the truth of these matters. It is our tradition to state our positions as forcefully as we can, and to give the evidence supporting our positions, so that we may set our editorial course as reasonably and accurately as possible.

It was a tiring meeting. I left feeling drained, but happy.

A Prophecy

As I headed back across St. Peter’s Square, a voice called out to me in the October evening darkness.

“Bob!” it called. I turned.

In the gloom, I could barely see that it was Paul Badde and his wife, Ellen, old friends and colleagues from Germany. Paul held a rosary in his hand.

We spoke of many matters, beneath the Pope’s window, enfolded by the colonnade, while bishops and cardinals exiting from the Synod Hall passed by us in the Square.

“Make no mistake, Bob,” Paul said, at the end. “We will have our Pope (he gestured toward the Pope’s brightly lit window above us) for many more years. He will match Leo XIII. You’ll see.”

Pope Leo reigned for 25 years, from 1878 to 1903. He lived until the age of 93, making him the oldest Pope, and his reign was the third longest of all Popes, behind Pius IX (almost 32 years) and John Paul II (almost 27 years).

If Benedict were to reign for 25 years, he would live to be 103 and reign until the year 2030. It he lives to be as old as Pope Leo, he will reign until he is 93, or another 11 years, until 2020.

A Humble Ambassador

Back on the via delle Fornaci, I entered Pina’s sandwich shop to have a salad, pizza and orange juice for my evening meal.

Pina (short for Giuseppina) works from 10 to 10 every day, and everyone in this area of the city, from journalists to cardinals (Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne is a regular customer), knows her well.

“Bob!” she said. “Look at this!”

She stretched her arm across the counter and handed me a glossy photograph.

“Hmmm,” I said. “That’s the new American ambassador to the Vatican, Michael Diaz. He’s been here?”

“Yes!” she said eagerly. “And his family! See? Look at his four beautiful children! And his beautiful wife! See how lovely she is? Diaz. Yes, that’s his name. What a well-educated person. No special airs at all! So humble! He says he enjoys the simple sandwiches I make. So I asked if I could take this photograph.”

Ambassador Diaz, you have made a very good impression on at least one Roman — Pina of the via delle Fornaci sandwich shop. A good start to your mission for sure.

“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.” —Blaise Pascal (French mathematician, philosopher, physicist and writer, 1623-1662

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