Stuart Reid Charterhouse
Cardinal Newman did not much care for Romans. “One is struck at once with their horrible cruelty to animals,” he wrote in 1847, “also with their dishonesty, lying and stealing apparently without conscience.” Newman perhaps rather overstated the case. I have never seen Romans being cruel to animals. In my experience they are kind to animals, especially to very large dogs. On the other hand, it has to be said that they can be a little – how to put it without giving offence? – a little unscrupulous.
On a visit to Rome about 12 years ago we were ripped off by a taxi driver, robbed by Gypsies and I had a debit card swallowed by a cash machine. It got to me, and one afternoon I started to jump up and down in a street in the Aventine, swearing like a sous chef.
“Is this how Charles Moore would behave?” Mary asked in a desperate effort to restore me to my senses. I can’t quite recall my response at this distance in time, but it would have been foul and for the purposes of a family newspaper would probably have translated as: “Fiddlesticks to Charles Moore.” Mary shrugged. “Your fly is undone,” she observed, and turned her back on me.
Last week it almost happened again. I’d just bought some very smart reading glasses from a little shop a javelin’s throw from the Pantheon and they were nicked while I was on the Metro, or at any rate when I arrived at the Barberini station my glasses and the rather pretty red cord on which they’d been hanging round my neck had gone. Again I jumped up and down, but this time did not use any four-letter words. That’s progress.
Here is some more good news: we were driven from Fiumicino to the centre of Rome by an honest taxi driver, who charged the statutory €40 for the trip. He was a former deep-sea diver – he’d travelled all over the world, even to Scotland – and was both charming and funny. We joked about the usual things – Berlusconi and bunga bunga – and he told us how hard it is to survive in Italy. “To survive in Italy,” he said, “you have to be an Italian.” In any case I forgave Rome for my Metro mishap. I love the city, and her people, and one is bound to forgive even those one loves.
On the day of the beatification, we went to the nine o’clock old Latin Mass at Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, the baroque FSSP church not far from the Ponte Sisto. It was perfect: no sermon, no collection, no rush, no fuss -and it was over in 35 minutes. There were 16 of us in the congregation, including three priests.
One disappointment: there was no server. A holy woman recited the responses, but was not trusted with a bell, so there was no ringing, for example, at the “Hanc igitur ...” But it is easy to play catch-up, or to pause, when you are following the crib in your Missal.
At the beatification Mass later we got stuck in a side street. There was not enough room to swing a rosary, and it was not an especially uplifting experience. People whispered even during the consecration. I got a bit prim and poked a young lad on his naked shoulder and hissed, “Shhh”. To our left a group of Poles knelt.
Why so few at that Santissima Trinità Mass? Well, Rome is in many respects a pagan city; and if not pagan, then certainly liberal, secularist, Enlightened. A middle-aged, middle-class cyclist – perhaps a teacher – stopped and asked us if we needed directions. He was a very agreeable fellow, and gave us a lecture on Giordano Bruno, the Domini can friar who, depending on your point of view, was burned for heresy or martyred for his Copernican beliefs, and whose rather spooky statue stands the Campo de Fiori.
The cyclist had obviously taken us for a couple of decent, normal Anglos, and therefore he assumed he was preaching to the converted. The burning of Bruno (in 1600) was a bad business, to be sure, but I did not want to join the good man in his right-on jog through Roman history –he was soon talking about the betrayal of the revolution of 1848 -and I wondered for a moment whether I should say something like “Viva il Papa”. It would only have complicated matters, however. Instead, when he started to bang on about the insulting ugliness of the Victor Emmanuel Monument, I said how much I like it. “Just like a wedding cake,” said I. Actually, he said, it was more like a public urinal. “Another reason for liking it,” I said.
The big event for me last week was not the beatification but the “other” blognic – a Trad do held the day after the Vatican’s own conference for bloggers. About 30 people turned up. The three stars of the show were Dorothy Cummings McLean, Hilary White and Michael Voris. Dorothy, a Canadian and now a pillar of the Trad establishment in Edinburgh, turned out to be as engaging as I’d imagined her to be from her blog (Seraphic goes to Scotland), but – and this was a big surprise to me – I also found myself warming to Hilary, who had organised the blognic, and to Michael.
In case you don’t know them, Hilary is the very clever and very laid-back Rome correspondent of LifeSite News, and another Canadian, and Michael Voris is an American who, as a senior executive producer of Real Catholic TV, has become a TV star among Traditionalists. Both serve in the special forces division of the Church Militant. Neither takes prisoners, and Michael sometimes carries a sword in his online presentations.
My difficulty with these two is that I find them too hard, too aggressive, but at the blognic they were moderate and self-deprecatory. These were nice people, I decided, not the silly bloggers I had been hoping to encounter. I told Michael Voris that the editor of The Catholic Herald had charged me with stealing his sword and bringing it back to London in triumph. Michael grinned. “I decided to leave it at home,” he said. “I thought I might have difficulty with customs.”