Published January 11, 2001
The Catholic Difference
The Great Jubilee of 2000 concluded on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, January 6. For a quick review of some of the highlights (and low-lights) of this remarkable year-plus, here’s a “Jubilee scorecard:”
Best restoration of a Roman basilica: The four major basilicas all look magnificent but St. Peter’s is simply spectacular. The recovery of long-hidden colors in the facade, and the stunning restoration of the atrium by the Knights of Columbus, combine to create what seems, for all its familiarity, a new building.
Most moving moment: A tie here — 1) John Paul II kneeling at the Holy Door of St. Peter’s on Christmas Eve, 1999. How many of us wondered whether the Pope might be praying the Canticle of Simeon: “Now, Lord, you may dismiss your servant, in peace, according to your word…”? 2) John Paul II, head bent in silent prayer, over the eternal flame of remembrance at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial: a sight that reduced tough-minded politicians to tears and raucous reporters to silence.
Dumbest idea: The decision by the Vicariate of Rome to mark New Year’s Eve 1999 with a rock concert in St. Peter’s Square. Why should the Church have competed with sound-and-light shows in London, Paris, and New York? (A close second here: the jubilee logo, which looked like an advertisement for Disneyland.)
Biggest demographic surprise: Among the two million-plus pilgrims who came to Rome for the jubilee World Youth Day in August, the second-largest national group was French: 90,000 young men and women, a fruit of the 1997 Paris World Youth Day and a dramatic sign that the new evangelization is getting traction in France, the Church’s “eldest daughter.”
Biggest liturgical surprise: World Youth Day again, as youngsters stood in long lines for hours at some 300 portable confessionals in the Circus Maximus to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. One veteran confessor said afterward that he had never been so moved by what he saw and heard there. As a wise man once observed, if you build it they will come.
Best historical contrast: Drawn by Cardinal James Francis Stafford, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, who noted that, whereas hundreds of thousands of young people had stormed across Europe as armies in the twentieth century, now, for World Youth Day, the young were streaming across Europe as pilgrims. “What a difference to begin the third millennium!” the cardinal said. Indeed.
Most remarkable outdoor scene: More than a quarter million pilgrims, completely filling St. Peter’s Square and spilling down the Via della Conciliazione, celebrating the Jubilee of Families with the Pope on October 15 and refusing to be deterred by six hours of torrential rain.
Most obnoxious governmental intervention: No, it wasn’t the Florida Supreme Court. Rather, we have another tie here, between Iraq (for effectively blocking the Pope’s pilgrimage to Ur, home of Abraham) and the People’s Republic of China (for whining about the canonization of 120 Chinese martyrs).
Best timing: Father Dan Barnett of the Spokane diocese, then a deacon-seminarian at the North American College, who walked through the Holy Door of St. Peter’s shortly after it was opened and found himself a jubilee poster-boy on the front page of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
Silliest complaint: The Italian cardinal who fretted that the Pope was keeping the Church in a constant state of “agitation.”
Unsung hero: Bishop James Harvey, Prefect of the Papal Household and a native of Milwaukee, whose office made it possible for millions of pilgrims to attend jubilee events in a dignified and orderly fashion, without the combination of hassle and chicanery that previously characterized Vatican ticketing.
Saddest change: “Da Roberto,” a famous trattoria a few blocks from the Vatican, switched to a fixed “tourist menu.”
Decision most in need of reversing: The decree by the archpriest of the Vatican Basilica, Cardinal Virgilio Noe, that tours of the scavi, the excavations of an ancient cemetery under St. Peter’s, must stop before pilgrims get to the small niche where the remains of the Prince of the Apostles lie.
Wisest decision: To reveal the third Fatima “secret” and thus dampen apocalyptic speculation among Catholics.
Needed for the next time: Restrooms inside St. Peter’s!
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.