I would be seriously omitting something if I talked about living in Rome this semester without mentioning il Giubileo. “The Jubilee” was originally the Catholic Church’s every-50-years festival, although it was changed some time ago to every 25 years. With the Y2K celebrations, it’s especially jubilant, seeing as how it is the 2000th anniversary of the church, and a new millennium at that.
The question, however, is what does all this mean to me, a jaded ex-Catholic boy studying in Rome?
Well, for one thing, I can’t go anywhere in this city without seeing a nun or group of nuns and, remembering my Catholic school days, cowering in fear. Il Giubileo brings about hordes upon hordes of pilgrims (not pilgrims in the Plymouth Rock sense, but pilgrims in the people-travelling-to-Rome-for-religious-enlightenment sense) to the Catholic capital of the world; 26 million are expected by the end of this year. I’d estimate that a good 50 percent of these pilgrims are nuns of every imaginable nationality, traveling the city in flocks, decked out in their old-fashioned habits. It’s bizarre: the nuns I run into over here (in the strangest places…on the subway, say, or buying clothes at a flea market) are far more cheerful than the demons I remember from school. My friend Amber says its because with Rome’s 300-something churches, the nuns are like a kid in a candy store; “Oh BOY! Where do I go to mass today?!”
The churches are another big part of il Giubileo. There are seven churches that every pilgrim to Rome is supposed to visit, St. Peter’s in the
Vatican and St. Mary Major among them, and with the jubilee going on, these churches have become something of a tourist attraction. I suppose when you have thousands of pilgrims headed to the same place, the curious tourists are bound to follow sooner or later. My art history class has gone on site to several of these churches, studying the paintings, the architecture or both, and we are often met with throngs of the devout and not devout alike. I couldn’t say if it is always like this, or if it is just this year, but it’s still a funny but sad thing that these supposed sacred places of worship have become just another check off point on somebody’s agenda. Then again, this is coming from somebody who went into St. Peter’s wearing a Skinny Puppy shirt, so what room do I have criticizing the “not devout”?
Then of course, there’s the face everybody associates with this whole shindig, il Papa himself, Pope John Paul II. His holiness isn’t quite in the best shape these days; he is old and suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Times that I’ve seen him on the news, he moves slowly, shaking arms clutching a staff, and his voice is slow and weak. The aforementioned Amber, an anthropology major studying the pilgrims, attended a papal event at St. Peter’s square where the video screen caught a shot of the pope yawning…the poor fella was worn out from having performed two Masses that day! Nevertheless, it was supposedly Pope John Paul’s goal to live long enough to see in this millennial celebration, and that he did. He must be extremely happy about this, as he’s beatified more than 30 people (in other words, the step before canonization…put on the road to sainthood) so far this year — and it’s only April.
I inadvertently wandered into St. Peter’s Square one day while out shooting photos, and found it packed with people. It was obvious that many of them were pilgrims here for the jubilee; I could tell from large pockets of people waving around the flags of their respective countries. I quickly determined that PJP was about to give a speech, and, being curious, stuck around. A few minutes later, he appeared at his window and spoke with his unsteady, ailing voice, but the crowd still hung on his every word with great excitement. I swear, the scene reminded me of a rock concert…the speaker setup, the sheer number of people, the way those people cheered and hooted at breaks in his speech, hollering the equivalent of “YEEEEEEEEAAAAH POPE!!!” I would not have been surprised if PJP had done a flying stage dive from his balcony and crowd-surfed St. Peter’s Square.
Living over here, I’ve been hit from all sides with this religion I was raised in, between studying it in art history and seeing signs of il Giubileo everywhere I go. I must say, I couldn’t help but become somewhat interested in the goings-on of the Catholic Church, and have spent more time in churches and basilicas in these past three months than I have in the past five years. What can I say? It fascinates me. But does this mean I’ll begin attending Mass again upon my return back to the states?
Naaaaah…I wouldn’t go that far.