By Enza Ferreri
This post on the blog of Italian journalist and writer Aldo Maria Valli that I present here after translating it was published on 29 March 2019, but that is exactly what makes it so interesting: it is incredibly accurate in its predictions, which were meant not literally but ironically, and gives us the opportunity to meditate on how certain absurd events in our lives that we’ve been forced to see in the last surreal year, and that we were led to believe were only provoked by the novel coronavirus and in response to it, were already developing before the appearance of SARS Cov-2 on our radar.
The article takes its cue from an episode from 25 March 2019, shown in viral videos around the web, in which Pope Francis, during his one-day visit to the Holy House of Loreto repeatedly refused to let Catholic faithful kiss his papal ring, by pulling his hand away from a pilgrim after another who had been queuing up to pay homage to the Head of the Church.
The Holy House of Loreto is part of the house in Nazareth where the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived and born, where she grew up and received the Annunciation of her future miraculous giving birth to Christ, to which she replied “Fiat!” (Let it be!), the same word uttered by God during the creation: that “Yes” from Mary was the supreme moment in history, the beginning of humanity’s Redemption.
In the same house the Virgin Mary conceived Jesus, and Jesus there lived with the Holy Family.
25 March, which was just a few days ago, is the Feast of the Annunciation, hence the Papal visit to Loreto on that day.
This act of pulling his hand away by Pope Francis was attributed to concern for hygiene. Rather than following the example of preceding Pontiffs, Francis’ behaviour was contrary to expected and regular protocol in the Church tradition, but is very much in line with the scenes we have had to witness during the lockdown, with priests stopped by police before consecrating the Eucharist during Mass, holy water fonts at the entrance of churches being replaced by hand sanitizers, confessions being herd outside the confessional, and long periods of time when churches were even closed.
When you read it, keep in mind that Valli’s article starting below talks about events happening in March 2019, because you may sometimes easily think that it’s talking about now.
The post’s quasi-predictive power derives from the author’s ironic but perceptive intuition that, when men turn away from God, they become obsessively preoccupied, in the absence of something more important in their lives, with material things like wealth and health. The attempt to control every bit of one’s environment stems from that, vainly thinking that we can be the masters of the universe.
From sanctification to sanitization
Reality often exceeds fantasy, but sometimes it exceeds irony too. A few days ago I wrote that [Pope] Bergoglio’s decision not to let the faithful kiss his ring depended on not wanting to spread germs. Naive as I am, I thought I was being a bit sardonic. But now the Vatican spokesman is making it known, urbi et orbi [from Latin: to the city (Rome) and the world], that this is exactly what happened: “The Pope told me that the reason why he didn’t let the faithful kiss the ring in Loreto was for hygiene. Not for him, but to avoid contagion when there are long lines of people. He likes to hug people.”
I began to suspect that I had actually hit the mark with my supposed sarcasm when some hasty readers, not noticing the indication at the top of my article, in which I warned that I would have used irony in the text, wrote to me asking how I had known that the Pope was so concerned about people’s health. For those readers, evidently, it was quite normal that the head of the Catholic Church did it for hygiene.
So, that being the case, the argument here needs to be expanded a little bit.
In fact, since the Pope and the Church no longer have at the top of their concerns the salvation of souls, too elusive a matter, but much more concrete issues such as the ecological question, the use of water, air quality, the battle against mining, the fate of rural areas, the protection of forests, the preservation of biomes, biological corridors, tropical forests, aquifers, biodiversity reserves, the preservation of the oceans, climate regimes, alternative energies, etc., why should the Pope not be concerned about the hygiene of the faithful queuing to greet him and kiss his ring? Why on earth shouldn’t the move be made from sanctification to sanitization?
After all, the next synod of bishops will be dedicated to the Amazon, the green lung of the world, and the preparatory document seems to have been written by a handful of green activists rather than by pastors of the Holy Roman Church. So…
So onward and upward, in the sign of attention to health rather than salvation.
That’s why during Holy Masses, by decree of the newly created Vatican Congregation for Health and Public Hygiene, disposable gloves will be distributed that the faithful will have to put on each other before exchanging the infamous gesture of peace [shaking hands]. And, every time someone sneezes or coughs in the middle of the celebration, the priest will interrupt the service and a specially appointed altar boy will spray the faithful with a sanitizing spray (again: I said sanitizing, not sanctifying), while the person responsible for the emission of contaminants through the oral or nasal cavities will be promptly removed and, if desired, can continue to follow the Mass from inside a watertight plexiglass capsule. And, in the most delicate cases, the altar boys will also spray anti-acarus, anti-bug and anti-caries products on the assembly, while sulfur dioxide with an antiseptic function will be released from the thuribles instead of incense.
And during the Chrism Mass no more holy oils, but essential oils, effective against germs and mold. And during the washing of the feet, so dear to Pope Francis, generous portions of a product, well known to housewives, against bacteria will be introduced into the water jug, so as to avoid the horrible prospect of encouraging the proliferation of the dreaded microorganisms, which, as we know, adore certain places and certain situations.
And the priest who distributes the host will wear surgical latex gloves, while a nun, wearing latex-free gloves, will be available to the faithful who suffer from allergies and sensitization to this material.
In holy water fonts will be introduced sanitizing additives, which the sacristan will be able to choose (liquid or tabs), and the Italian Bishops’ Conference will provide them thanks to the eight per thousand tax credit. And a lay person, after each reading from the Scriptures, will walk to the ambo and sanitize the microphone with special wipes (lemon or mint flavored). Also, in confessionals, before and after the sacrament, products will be distributed to limit infections typical of public places and, in extreme cases, both the priest and the penitent will wear protective masks which, as far as the penitent is concerned, may cover the entire face, so as to ensure, in addition to health, also anonymity, a bit like what happened when there was a grille.
And with the instruction De salute corporum the Vatican will advise against kissing icons, crosses and sacred images in general. The slogan will be “sacred is good, but healthy is better.”
There you go, it’s stronger than me: I’ve been ironic again. Although, at this point, I’m not so sure.
Aldo Maria Valli