“This Is a Miracle”; Not Your Typical Audience

Corpus Christi Brings Out the Faith in Catholics

By Irene Lagan

ROME, JUNE 14, 2007 (Zenit.org).- “This is a miracle,” said the man standing beside me as we watched the Eucharist procession outside of the Basilica of St. Mary Major last Thursday.

The faith-filled exclamation expressed in real terms the immediate effect of the Eucharistic presence that inspired Pope Urban IV to declare the feast of Corpus Christi in 1264.

Thousands silently lined the streets of Via Merulana to meet the procession led by Benedict XVI, in much the same way as the faithful in 1263 processed with the miraculous bloodstained corporal from Bolsena to Orvieto, some 13 miles away.

The Eucharistic procession that takes place each year on the feast of Corpus Christi begins with Mass celebrated by the Pope at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and ends with Benediction at St. Mary Major.

The spontaneous sentiment of the man standing next to me was a joy and reverence that was tangible, and not unlike the reverence that restored the faith of Father Peter of Prague.

In 1263, Father Peter of Prague was on a pilgrimage to Rome. Having lost faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Father Peter was merely going through the motions of Mass.

At the time of consecration, the blood from the body of Christ trickled onto the corporal and floor beneath the altar. Needless to say, Father Peter’s faith was restored. He stopped the Mass and went to nearby Orvieto, where Urban IV was residing.

As chance would have it, St. Thomas Aquinas was also in Orvieto, and was deeply impressed by the Eucharistic miracle and procession. It was St. Thomas Aquinas who recounted the details of the event, and wrote the hymns “O Salutaris Hostia” and “Tantum Ergo,” which are still sung today.

A year later, Urban IV issued a bull e stablishing the feast of Corpus Christi to commemorate the miracle and to dispel widespread doubt about the Real Presence.

Aquinas’ hymns eloquently express the transcendent unity accomplished through this mystery in which, as G.K. Chesterton once said, every man, prince or pauper, may recognize his high calling.

Last week’s procession visibly moved Karen Hall, a visitor to Rome and convert to the Catholic Church.

“This is a real experience of God’s transcendence, in such mundane and even profane surroundings,” Hall remarked as Benedict XVI, who was kneeling in adoration, passed.

“I will probably never see these people again and can’t speak a word of Italian, but in some ways I am closer to the people standing next to me now than I am to my family at home. This is for me a visible sign of our unity,” she added.

An artist and writer, Hall said that watching the procession was like “watching the colors of the Church.”

“It’s such an unpalatable cast that is genuinely transformed into something beautiful. Grace is so palpably evident,” she said.

Noting the camaraderie among strangers as the throngs began to disperse after Benediction, Hall remarked, “Only God can get a crowd like this to behave.”

This experience stood in marked contrast to my experience several days later when a crowd less numerous than the one outside St. Mary Major banded together to protest globalization and war on the occasion of U.S. President George Bush’s visit to Rome.

After the president’s meetings with Benedict XVI, the Community of Sant’Egidio and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, riot police were forced to close off several main piazzas when protesters exhibited signs of violence.

In contrast to the silence that united those gathered around the Eucharist, the tenor of the quiet imposed by police following the near-riot was, to say the least, disturbing.

* * *

A Papal Audience Jostle

The papal audience I attended last week provided a little more than its usual excitement. The relatively small crowd of 40,000 afforded the luxury of being able to stand along the fence to greet Benedict XVI without the usual jockeying and jostling for position.

When the Pope’s open-topped jeep finally turned the corner, the usual cheers gave way to shock as a young German man managed to leap over the fence and grab the back of the jeep.

I happened to be standing across from him and witnessed the entire incident. Several police wrestled the apparently mentally disturbed man to the ground, put him in handcuffs and escorted him away. According to media reports, he was subsequently admitted to a psychiatric facility.

The anxiety was momentary and the general audience proceeded as usual. Indeed, neither Benedict XVI nor his driver seemed to notice the commotion.

As I watched, I was grateful for the civility and skill on the part of the Vatican police, something that reports about the episode failed to convey. The restraint and even respect for the man detained as well as for the crowd following the incident were remarkable.

Given the memory of the near-fatal shooting of Pope John Paul II in 1981, police could easily have been harsh or disrespectful, or used force disproportionate to what was necessary.

As soon as order was restored, the security guard in front of me allowed a young mother carrying an infant and several others to pass. This was pleasantly surprising, as I anticipated police to dismiss their personal needs in the interest of stricter security.

But a security guard with whom I spoke shared that while Vatican police are fully trained, they are also cautioned to maintain respect and to carry out their duties in as charitable a manner as possible, something that is both reassuring and fitting.

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