It’s inconceivable to quit a dream job. And theoretically, if you were divinely chosen for that job, it would be even harder to quit. Yet that is exactly what Pope Benedict XVI did. So, that’s pretty brave, right? More likely, his health is declining enough that he doesn’t feel he has a choice. He’s 85 so I don’t blame him. I’m hoping to retire…like, now. I hope to not be working when I’m 85. I certainly won’t have a Pope-level job. At most I’ll just be president.
I’m not a religious person, but I am Catholic. Lapsed, but respectful. I grew up going to church. Forced, really (thanks Mom and Dad.) Even now, as an adult, I have little understanding as to how people choose to go to church. I never felt inspired or any of the warm and fuzzy things people claim to get from church.
The Catholic mass is cold. There’s a lot of standing, sitting, and having to be quiet. It’s solemn rather than joyous. My sisters and I had a few codes worked out so we could talk during mass. Tracing letters to spell things on each other’s legs, pointing to words in the hymnals, eventually spelling out a sentence. It wasn’t until we were older that we thought to bring pen and paper so we could just write notes. There’s no better laughter than the stifled giggles in church under mom and dad’s glares.
When Mr. Betty and I went to Europe last year, I gained a new appreciation for the church. More than a place of worship, the old Catholic churches and cathedrals are the main sources of art, finest architecture and such an important part of the culture. So much of Paris, Florence, and especially Rome were devoted to religion in a way that American cities just aren’t.
I fell in love with Rome just like I did with Paris, but in a more realistic way. Paris is a fantasy. I pictured Mr. Betty and I lounging by the Seine snacking on wine and cheese, having months on end to just stroll the city and the Louvre, devoting the time you really need to see it. Dressing fashionably, dining at charming cafes for hours on end. We don’t have jobs in this fantasy. It’s a perpetual vacation.
Now Rome is a city I could truly live in. Have in an apartment, sweat out the heat of summers, ride the crime-ridden trains to work everyday. Maybe get mugged. Have Mr. Betty teach me Italian over pasta, because he’ll be the one to pick it up first. You know, really live. Sigh. I love Rome so much. I felt at home there immediately.
I love Roman style pizza. Thick and long, cut with scissors into a serving-sized piece.
And I love the nasoni all over the city, giving you a chance to fill your bottle with ice cold water from the aquaducts.
Of course we spent a day in Vatican City waiting in line to see the Sistine Chapel, where we were forbidden to take photos. Here’s my photo:
For me, the visit was more of a sight-seeing, tourist activity. But it was impossible to not register the gravity and importance of where we were, especially when for many around us it was a spiritual event. I was surprised by how many Tibetan monks were there and the many other faiths represented. And I have a soft spot for nuns and was delighted by how many I saw.
Although Benedict was the current pope, the love for Pope John Paul was evident.
He was the people’s pope, the pope who was kind and symbolized love. His health declined in his last years and the world was saddened by his death. Pope Benedict was more of an interim pope. The in-between guy who would sit between two (hopefully) beloved, longterm popes. Not to imply that he’s anything less than a full-fledged pope, just as all who came before him, with all the same pope benefits. Like being buried or preserved in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Pope Benedict didn’t have an easy eight years, and neither will the next guy. He spent most of his time apologizing for pedophiliac priests, which just sucks. I hate that the Catholic church has this reputation, when it exists everywhere, not just the church. And it’s horrible.
I hope we can move on with optimism and leave these last few dark years behind. The pope selection process, or the papal enclave, is fascinating and mysterious. The College of Cardinals sequester themselves in the Sistine Chapel and are sworn to secrecy, attending masses, and repeatedly voting for days until a new pope has been selected. Black smoke is sent up each day the ballots do not result in an election, and white smoke signifies completion and a new pope. Cool, right?
The world is banking on the next pope representing a poor nation. And perhaps a progressive pope, although that term is relative. Changes to such long-standing traditions must be incremental. I would like to see a better stance on gays. And women. And birth control. And science. All the things that seems like common sense in our modern world. But Catholicism wasn’t created in our modern world. How do we buck traditions that many millions believe in their very core to be truth? I don’t know. But maybe the next guy will bring us a little bit closer to what we need today.