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An ecumenical pope in a non-ecumenical country? PDF Print E-mail
Mar 27, 2013 at 12:25 PM

ImageSome of you have asked why I haven't written about the recent election of Pope Francis. The answer is that there was so much coverage - never-ending it seemed - that there really wasn't much to say. Two weeks after his election, while it is far too soon to know if he will have any luck in making significant change inside the Vatican, it does seem that he has a good chance of becoming a very beloved Pope.

One thing that has struck everyone so far is his humility and dislike of too much pomp; apparently, he may not even move into the papal apartments but remain in the Santa Marta Domus where another 50 or so prelates live. What has impressed me the most so far is his strong sense of the ecumenical, which is something often sorely lacking in Italy. Most of you may not know this but Italy is a country where less-educated people frequently use the word "cristiano" (Christian) as a synonym for human being! This should have never happened given that ever since Roman times, there was always an important, if small, Jewish community in Italy. But now, when eight percent of the population is foreign born, and at least half of these new Italians are not Roman Catholics, it borders on the offensive.

The fact is that Italy is still not a truly lay or secular country. And it one had any doubts about that then witness the fact that yesterday ATAC, the Rome public transportation company announced it will be issuing (with public monies) a series of bus tickets with Francis' picture on the back. Personally, I have mixed feelings about it. Yes, the Pope sits in Vatican City which, although it is basically extraterritorial, is located smack in the middle of Rome. Yes, the pope, any pope, is also the bishop of Rome, and Francis has been referring to himself frequently in this way. Yes, an overwhelming majority of Italians are baptized Roman Catholics (even though most go to Church only on Christmas, Easter and for baptisms, marriages and funerals).

But, although sometimes it is hard to tell, Roman Catholicism is NOT the state religion of Italy and church and state are supposed (sic!) to be separate entities. So I don't really like the idea of the bus tickets with Francis' picture on them. But then again I also don't appreciate going to police and Carabinieri stations as well as hospitals and finding crucifixes on the walls. Secular Italy exists but sometimes it's hard to find it!

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