Monday, May 14, 2007


Saturday in Rome, a crowd estimated at one million people gathered at St. John Lateran Basilica to defend the family and traditional marriage based on a union between a man and a woman. Organized by family and Christian associations, Italy’s first "Family Day," which used the English title, drew numbers well beyond even the organizers' best hopes. Special trains and more than 3,000 busses brought people from all over Italy – not only Catholics but members of other religions, including Jews and Muslims.

Family and marriage were priority issues for John Paul II and the rally featured a video of the late Pope defending the family and the sanctity of traditional marriage. The gathering, whose motto was "The Family, Hope of the World," intended to defend the family in the face of an Italian government proposal that would give legal recognition to same-sex couples, though it would not legalize so-called "marriages" between them. The bill requires approval from the Italian parliament to whom the one million strong hoped to send a clear message Saturday.

In recent months the Vatican and the Italian Bishops' Conference have spoken out strongly against the legislation which was crafted by the center-left government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi. The DICO bill has met with strong opposition from conservatives and center-left Catholics in parliament. Pope Benedict has spoken out frequently in defense of the family and, in fact, sent a strong message from Brazil Friday evening, just hours before "Family Day" was scheduled to start in Rome, pointing to the sexual immorality promoted by popular culture and saying it destroys the sanctity of marriage. In a speech to Latin America's bishops, he also condemned what he called the "plague" of extramarital unions.


Pope Benedict returned to Rome Monday just after 12 noon, and went directly to Castelgandolfo where he will stay until Friday.

During his grueling five-day trip to Brazil, he canonized the first native-born saint during Mass in the presence of one million faithful, visited a drug and alcohol rehab center and prayed the Rosary with priests, religious, seminarians and deacons of Brazil at the shrine of Aparecida.

Sunday, before departing for Rome, he opened the Fifth General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean with a ringing discourse of 6,000 words, the longest of his pontificate, in which he asked bishops to focus their mission on Christ, not ideologies, and asked the faithful to be missionaries as Christ asked them to 2,000 years ago.

In that manifesto for mission, the Pope attacked Marxism and unbridled capitalism as sources of many problems in the world, especially Latin America with its abysmal divide between rich and poor. He warned that legalized contraception and abortion in Latin America threaten "the future of the peoples," and said the continent’s Catholic identity is being assailed and weakened by secularism, hedonism and proselytism by sects. He decried the sexual immorality promoted by popular culture, saying it destroys the sanctity of marriage.

Noting the inroads made by protestant sects, Benedict XVI, who appeared to be rejuvenated with every stop on his trip, said the church must work harder and employ all means of social communications to "release her irresistible missionary power, the power of holiness." Bishops must teach Catholics from all walks of life "to bring the light of the Gospel into public life, culture, economics and politics."


The front page of the Sunday edition of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, featured two photos, one of John Paul II in prayer before the statue of Our Lady of Fatima and the second, a photo of Our Lady in whose crown was placed the bullet removed from the Pope during surgery after he was shot in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981.

A brief paragraph under those pictures reads: "May 13, 1981: The blood of John Paul II bathes the pavement of St. Peter's Square. A homicidal hand tried to obliterate that "Presence," so strong and paternal, so tender and proud, audacious and unarmed (the Italian word used here also means "disarming"). A "Presence" that even today - precisely in the year in which we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima – is still humanly and ecclesially alive. And remains sculpted in the heart's memory with cacents of filial gratitude."

I was in the square when that happened 26 years ago and wrote many accounts of that infamous gesture and infamous day - not in Word Perfect or Word or any other computer style because we did not have computers then. The copies of those stories are in scrapbooks at my mother’s home in California. I do not need to re-read them to remember every second of that late afternoon in May - yet, it would be interesting - and perhaps instructive - to read those originals. I'll try to find them and bring them to you some day.


During my recent trip to the States, I spent a day and a half in Birmingham, home to EWTN, and then went to Chicago to attend one of the special events marking Cardinal Francis George's 10th anniversary as archbishop. He was installed as the eighth archbishop of Chicago on May 7, 1997, and created a cardinal nine months later by John Paul II in February 1998 in Rome.

I will talk about the cardinal and those celebrations tomorrow but today I just wanted to pay tribute to Chicago, a city I had not visited for many years, a city that was and is my favorite big city in America.

When I checked into my 17th floor corner room at the Hilton and looked out the window, I saw my entire childhood in front of me. I saw Lake Michigan where I swam as a child and teen in the summers (on the Michigan side), as many times, it seemed, as there were stars in the sky. I saw the Adler Plantarium, the Shedd Acquarium, the Field Museum of Natural History, all of which I visited countless times, either on school trips or when we went as a family. I saw the new Soldier Field - though it will never replace the old and truly wonderful Soldier Field for many of us. I looked out over Grant Park and saw Buckingham Fountain, the world’s largest illuminated fountain.

Beyond Grant Park, on the lake, I saw sail boats galore, savoring the wind and braving the early spring chill, and I remembered sailing lessons and regattas on White Lake and Lake Michigan growing up. I saw the half-mile long Navy Pier, a former training area for Navy and Marines with its Ferris wheel which commemorates the world's first Ferris wheel unveiled in Chicago in 1893. Navy Pier now features architectural boat tours on the Chicago River and dinner cruises on Lake Michigan.

I took some photos Friday and Saturday mornings as I walked along Michigan Avenue and Grant Park and Millennium Park, strolling along the famous "Magnificent Mile" of Michigan Blvd, with its old buildings and new skyscrapers, its tony stores and chic cafes and restaurants. Some of the buildings were there as I was growing up - others have sprouted in the years since.

I visited a building I had not seen for decades - Lewis Towers - given to Loyola University in 1946 by my great-aunt and -uncle, Julia and Frank J. Lewis - with an address on both Pearson Street and one on Michigan Avenue (the Magnificent Mile and Gold Coast part), just opposite the famed Water Tower, one of the few survivors of the great Chicago Fire of 1871. Lewis Towers houses Loyola University's School of Business Administration, School of Social Work, and the Law School, as well as offices of the Illinois Club for Catholic Women, founded by Aunt Julia in 1920.

As the ICCW’s history page says: "The Illinois Club for Catholic Women originated in 1920 with the hope of providing a club for every woman who sought the finer things in life at a cost within her means. Founded by Julia Deal Lewis, the Illinois Club for Catholic Women occupied the eight skyline floors overlooking Lake Michigan, in majestic Lewis Towers, combining Luxury, tradition and modernity on Chicago's famed Magnificent Mile. Membership dues at the time were $12.00 a year. The Club offered everything - Grand Lounge, Ballroom, Swimming Pool, Recreational Room, Dining Room, Snack Bar, Cocktail Lounge, Formal Parlors, Mediation Chapel, Gift Shop, Card Rooms and Meeting Rooms. Living accommodations for businesswomen who appreciated the best at a moderate cost consisted of private rooms with bath or dormitories with an adjoining lounge. Automatic laundry facilities were also available."

Membership and myriad benefits: $12.00 a year. Now there's something that gives one pause!

Lewis Towers was familiar to me, of course, as was the famed Water Works Tower and Pumping Station and the Chicago Tribune Tower which, by the way, was the result of a contest to design "the most beautiful offce building in the world." Finished in 1925, it is said that its base wall incorporates pieces of the Taj Mahal, St. Peter's Basilica (I really want to explore this part!), the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, the Alamo and the Colosseum. A steel fragment from the World Trade Center has been added. The most famous stone - a moon rock - is not in the wall but on display. The Tribune Tower overlooks the Chicago River which wends its way throughout the city and, in case you did not know, is dyed green every year on St. Patrick's Day!

The majority of the skyscrapers I saw were new, as is Millennium Park which opened in 2004 but which I did not have time to visit – therefore no photos – at least this trip! My heart broke only once. The world famous department store - Marshall Field's, built in 1852 - is no more. The building is now Macy's and I met people who grew up with Field's as part of their life who now refuse to shop there.

I am now anxious to return to Chicago for a longer period. I’d love more than anything to return to other places that marked my youth - churches, especially what I remember as the magnificent church of my childhood, St. Edmund's in Oak Park. Cardinal George gave me two stunning books on Chicago churches and as I turned the pages and read the text, more memories came flooding back. How very much the history of the Catholic Church in Chicago - and in other large American cities, I am sure - is linked to ethic groups. Imposing, wonderfully grand edifices with magnificent facades and bell towers and entrance doors, churches built with the pennies, nickels and dimes of Polish, German, Italian and French immigrants, the money of people who would eat a smaller meal at night just to be able to help build a beautiful home for God.

Thanks for staying with me on my journey home, even though I’ve only shared a small part of what I saw and felt. God bless!

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