Creating space for a fresh papal calendar

Creating space for a fresh papal calendar

  Pope Francis visits the excavations beneath St. Peter's

I was happy to see that Pope Francis took some time for himself on Easter Monday and visited the excavations below St. Peter’s Basilica. This was not simply a tourist stop, of course, but a visit to the roots of the papacy – St. Peter’s tomb was discovered there in the late 1940s.

As a former student of archeology, I hope Francis also makes his way to a smaller but equally impressive Roman necropolis in a northeastern corner of Vatican City. As I described in my book, it was unearthed in 2003 when the Vatican was trying to build a 900-unit underground car park (and thus became a bone of contention, so to speak.)

It seems rather incredible, but previous popes have not really taken guided tours of these fascinating places. At most, they managed quick visits.

Part of the problem is that a pope’s time is no longer his own. From Day 1, he is presented with a long catalogue of requests for audiences, a to-do list of messages, speeches and liturgies, and proposals for Vatican initiatives.

Much of a modern pope’s calendar has been filled in even before he is elected. This is due in large part to the very active pontificate of John Paul II, who established dozens of annual events that require a papal audience, message or speech. The program has grown by accretion, and it’s probably time to re-evaluate whether all this is really needed.

There are many Italian Catholic groups, for example, that have a standing meeting with the pope. World leaders of any stripe are generally received by popes, no matter how productive or unproductive such encounters may be. It’s logical that Rome parishes host the pope on occasional visits – it is his diocese, after all – but does a pope really have to visit so many Italian cities? (Pope Benedict made 30 such visits during his reign.)

As I’ve written elsewhere, the format for the “ad limina” visits that take up so much of a pope’s working day could probably use an overhaul, in order to make them less formal and more productive, and increase the involvement of lay faithful.

Francis seems willing to take a new look, and create some space for different types of encounters. He is wisely beginning by familiarizing himself with his new environment, and he doesn't have to go far afield – the tomb of Peter lies about 200 feet from his residence in the Vatican guest house.

In coming days, I wouldn't be surprised to see him wander over to the nearby Vatican shelter for the homeless, where Missionaries of Charity provide meals and housing for more than 70 people each day.

6 comments (Add your own)

1. sesu wrote:
it's really unbelievable.nice

Tue, April 2, 2013 @ 10:17 AM

2. claire bangasser wrote:
Thank you for the link to your USA Today piece. Good one.
Like you, I hope Francis can create his own agenda :-)

Tue, April 2, 2013 @ 11:09 AM

3. Marie wrote:
I found your book fascinating. I read it after the recent papal election and now find myself reading all I can about Francis. I will visit Rome in May and hope to see Francis at one of his Wednesday appearances in St Peter's Square. He seems a simple holy man. I hope he is just the right person to focus on the issues needed to get the Church back on track. Until I read your book I did not realize how much intra-church politics influence what a pope can get done.

Tue, April 2, 2013 @ 12:29 PM

4. Yae wrote:
Papa Francis has the heart of a simple parish priest. His holy predecessors may have as well, but he as truly lived it and will continue to do so as Pope. I like the idea of him getting around Rome and "getting to know the place." If he can truly carve out some time alone during his hectic schedule, we will all benefit. Viva il Papa!

Tue, April 2, 2013 @ 1:38 PM

5. Brice wrote:
The Lord works in mysterious ways..all glory to Him!! He will not abandon His flock but nurture and guide them to his rest!!

Tue, April 2, 2013 @ 2:01 PM

6. John Osman wrote:
Your chapter "Bones" fascinated so I requested a Vatican Necropolis (Via Triumphalis) Tour for our upcoming trip to Rome. On our last visit we toured the Scavi. Reading your book shed light on the differences between the Scavi and the "Via Triumphalis." There are so many burial grounds underneath the Vatican. I think you also mentioned the burial site discovered in the other parking lot outside the Vatican - on the SW corner - during construction prior to 2000. I think that totals three sites, at least.

Unfortunately, an email reply notified me that "Necropolis is closed, and we still do not know when it will reopen." Bummer. Who knows why it is closed?

Wed, April 3, 2013 @ 7:41 AM

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