March 1, 2013
When Is the Conclave?
More Questions Than Answers
Monsignor Irwin and his students at the Duomo (cathedral) of Orvieto.
When will the conclave be?, asked the students. Why? Because most have plane reservations to be away from Rome for spring break (March 1 to 10). I reply I wish I knew and that we will all know when the College of Cardinals starts meeting on March 4. The prevailing criterion, it seems to me, is so that the Cardinal electors have done due diligence and sorted out whom they will vote for.
In the meantime, classes go on for the students, punctuated now and then by weekend trips elsewhere. Many students take a flight on Fridays (with many low-budget carriers here) to Paris, Dublin, London, Zurich, etc. — for the weekend. Then they come back to a full range of courses and Italian lessons. Talk about stamina. I say to myself, “I was never their age,” and I mean that in many ways!
Earlier this month we all went to Tuscany and Umbria. Under the very able tutelage of Dr. David Dawson, a doctoral alum of the School of Theology and Religious Studies and director of the Rome Program, we boarded a bus around 8 o’clock. At the very start of the ride he and I fielded more students’ questions about who gets to vote, where is the chimney for the white smoke, etc.
|Top, Monsignor Irwin points to the Duomo from the piazza below. Bottom, professor and students at the Piazza San Marco, the main public square in Venice.|
Our first destination was the incredibly beautiful town of Siena, a compact (and quieter) version of Florence. On our walk to the town square (also called the campo, where they have two horse races in the summer called the Palio), we stopped at the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena. Dr. Dawson explained the importance of banking for the history of Siena. The lead story in a recent International Herald Tribune was about how that bank is currently embroiled in a major financial scandal. The more things change …
That afternoon we visited the house where St. Catherine of Siena grew up. Our next stop was the Church of San Domenico, where the head of St. Catherine of Siena is on view in a side chapel. That the rest of her body is on view in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome caused quite a discussion and several questions from the students. The observations ranged from the rationale for separating parts of saints’ bodies, (good question) to cremation, the theology of the body, and the importance of the soul and the body. As Anna sang in “The King and I,” “by your pupils you’ll be taught.”
The next day we went to San Gimignano, noted for its seven fortress-like towers. We knew of an English-language Mass celebrated every Sunday in a side chapel off the cloister of the Augustinian church there. When we arrived, we added 50 or so to the congregation of six. They were as hospitable and gracious as they could be. The priest had taught at Villanova for years and engaged us in a homily about the journey of faith reflected in the scripture readings for the First Sunday of Lent. The day ended over dinner in a castle on the outskirts of Florence owned by the Pazzi family, arch rivals of the Medici family who gave the church four Popes. They were also very important bankers.
On Monday we toured Orvieto. First stop was the Dominican church where St. Thomas Aquinas lived for a time. The next stop was the piazza outside of the magnificent cathedral. I especially enjoyed explaining how the catechetical materials of the day included the facades of churches. On the left was the creation and sin of Adam and Eve. On the right was the last judgment. Salvation history on display.
We also toured two chapels. One of them contained the reason for building the church. In 1263 a priest was saying Mass in a church nearby. When he was breaking the host for Communion, a Eucharistic miracle occurred — blood was shed on the corporal (the white linen cloth over the altar cloth at Mass). The next year Pope Urban IV, then living in Orvieto, claimed the corporal for the town, and asked St. Thomas Aquinas to write the texts for a feast in honor of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), which he established that year and we celebrate every year on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday.
We returned from the city where the Pope had lived, Orvieto, to the city where Pope Benedict lived. At least until Feb. 28. Now what?
More questions than answers.