by Alan McElwain IT is the Romani, the real people of Rome, the workmen and the old ladies in black who stand out among the pilgrims constantly flocking to St. Peter's Square for a hint of news about the Pontiff we know to he dying. For them he is "one of us", with a heavy accent on the "us".
The only people who feel somewhat remote from him are the Black Nobility, the old guard of the aristocracy. For them is was Pius XII who was "one of us", who was an aristocrat and behaved like one.
But Pope John has remained what he always said he wanted to be—a simple. country priest and it is providential that such a man rose to the See of Peter at such a time. He has been seen so much and is a very familiar figure even to those who have never had a Papal audience.
They remember so well his spontaneous gestures—the sort of thing that happened when he recently visited President Segni. As he left the Quirinale, he suddenly turned and threw his arms round Segni in a most unPopelike way as if to say: "Goodbye, old friend, we'll not meet again".
The watching crowd somehow felt that the embrace was meant for them all.
Pope John was never a man to lavish honours on people. He has created no new Papal Counts, and when asked whether he would give some honours to his brothers he replied with a laugh that they could rest content with the fact that they had a Pope for a brother.
His greatest admirers, of course, include the Communists. This is something absolutely real. The crowds at Trastevere —two-thirds of them Communist — have an enormous affection for him, just as they always give a colossal welcome to Cardinal Wysznsky whose titular church is in that area. They all love a man who looks like themselves and is above all a man of courage.
I always remember the story of the New Zealand Metropolitan Archbishop McKeefry, who is six foot four. When he last saw the Pope, the plump, short Holy Father looked up at him and said: "You know, if you would only come down I could embrace you".
More poignantly, one remembers his brother. Zaverio, who on leaving the Pope after a visit to the Vatican said : "He hugged
roe good-bye just like he did when we were little boys playing together in the back street."
My own memories of him include the day when I told him I was an Australian, He called me "Brother Australian" saluted, turned on his heels and walked out of the room still at the salute,
Another time he touched me deeply when he told me that writing for the Catholic press was "a form of the apostolate, a form of prayer".
Pope John once complained that an old mart of 80 couldn't hope to learn English properly. But he added : "It doesn't matter, it's the efforts that counts".
This is typical of the man. It could well be his epitaph.
You often hear that Italians are pretty lukewarm Catholics— but sometimes I wonder . .
A black flag flying from the bell tower of the parish church in Castelli Calepio, near Bergamo, North Italy (where Pope John was horn), marks the villagers' sorrow—and anger—at the transfer of their popular curate, Don Alessandro Dossena.
Don Alessandro, after substituting successfully for some time for his sick parish priest, Don Salvatore Zambolli, was suddenly ordered to another posting by his ecclesiastical superiors, and replaced by Don Giuseppe Martinelli. of nearby Tagliuno.
D o n Alessandro's resentful admirers opened a series of protests by throwing a home-made bomb at Don Giuseppe's house. It did no damage. Then, as Don Alessandro left for his new post, the villagers, in cars, and on cycles and foot. formed a solemn "cortege" and escorted him, The following Sunday, Don Giuseppe said Mass, in a usually packed church, to exactly 10 women. The rest of the parishioners were on "strike". Later, two young men nailed stout telegraph poles across the church door, after which a couple of youths scaled the hell tower and hoisted the black flag.
The villagers threaten to go on boycotting the church until they get Don Alessandro back.
As I mentioned last week. San Silvestro, the "English" church in Rome, should be reopened soon. Those many friends of the church who speak and/or read Italian may like to know that a book in this language, "San Silvestro in Capite", jointly written by Father John S. Gaynor, one of the assistants to the General of the Pallottine Order, which runs the church, and Maria Toesca, has just been published. It has a lot of excellent illustrations and is obtainable (7/6 including postage) from Father Gaynor at San Silvestro Church, Piazza San Silvestro, Rome.