by Norman St. John-Stevas
I SPENT last week in Rome,
which surely is, if not the most beautiful city in the world (1 award that palm to Venice) certainly the most fascinating. The best months for visiting Rome are in fact either June or October when the mornings are dazzlingly bright with sun and the evenings suffused by a golden light which touches travertine and marble with magic. I know nothing in this life more delightful than a walk on a fine Summer evening in Rome from the Spanish steps to the Villa Borghese to look down on the fountains and obelisk of the Piazza del Popolo and see the sun setting over Rome touching the great dome of St. Peter's with crimson fire.
Thursday of last week was the anniversary of the death of Pope John and that morning I had been at St. Peter's where the Pope presided over a Solemn Requiem and gave the absolutions. One of the most moving moments came at the end of the mass when Pope Paul came down from his throne and greeted the two brothers of Pope John, Xaverio and Guiseppe, both over 80, with outstretched hands.
In the crypt beneath, the tomb of the "transitional" pope, as he was once unwisely saluted by the CATHOLIC HERALD, was massed with flowers including a sheaf of white carnations from the present Pope. The Vatican custom is for the Pope to preside over a Solemn Requiem each year for his predecessor until he himself dies when his own obsequies are celebrated! This is certainly a reasonable and logical arrangement but must carry its own chill intimation of mortality to the reigning Pope.
Indeed this feeling of transience and mortality pervades
all Rome and is one of the components of its spell. The city is like a huge theatre with an ever-changing cast. I felt this strongly in St. Peter's that morning of the requiem with Pope Paul in the seat I had previously seen occupied by Pope John and the never to be forgotten Pius X11. And in the future: chi 10 sa?
Politics intruded themselves on my reveries as Italy is holding its local elections and voting will take place all over the country as well as in Rome itself this Sunday. The Italian electoral system with its multiplicity of parties and long lists of candidates is highly complicated and I do not understand it well enough myself to be rash enough to try and explain it to anyone else. One vital point however since preferences are expressed by voters for individual candidates on the party lists is for the candidates to get their names known to the electorate.
This they do by screeching their names out through loudspeakers attached to the roofs of motorcars which roar up and down Rome's narrow streets adding a further horror to a traffic problem which is already a nightmare. Meanwhile leaflets putting forward the various candidates qualifications rain down from the sky and lie in unheeded heaps in the gutters waiting to be swept up by Rome's long suffering tribe of street cleaners.
I don't know what effect all this has on the Roman voter but I suspect that the average English voter would be much more likely to vote against these activists than to support them.
Last week also saw the celebrations in Rome of the 20th anniversary of the Italian Republic. Curiously enough I was in Rome 20 years ago when the Republican constitution was adopted and few would have • prophesied with confidence then that it would have lasted so long, considerably longer, it should be noted, than the Fascist regime which preceded it.
The great weakness of the Italian political set up is the absence of a constitutional opposition. The Communists remain the largest party and seem likely to increase their vote at these mid-term elections. The hope of the future lies with the reunification of the socialists of various hues to form a united alternative to Christian democracy.
On the evening of Republic day I attended a reception at the Quirinale where I had the honour of meeting the President, Signor Saragat. Italy's President has a genuine affection for England and a great admiration for her parliamentary institutions. The Quirinale always makes me feel nostalgic, not, I may say, for the House of Savoy but for the Popes whose palace it once was when they were kings of Rome.
The shade of Pio Nono whose secretary Monsignor Palma was shot dead at one of the windows is still sensible. As I was looking up at the rows of windows wondering through which the deadly bullet entered my eye was attracted by the sight of Signorina Lolobrigida moving across the lawn disguised in her new red hair. Autres temps autres moeurs. Only Rome remains eternal,