The Writing is on the Wall – Mysteries and Portents in Rome

Chinese couple poses for a photo on Via Della Gatta Rome, Februaury 10, 2016. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Chinese couple poses for a photo on Via Della Gatta Rome, Februaury 10, 2016. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Dear Blog Readers,

You may wonder where I have been since I haven’t been posting. Actually right here in Rome, frenetically rushing around as usual trying to keep all my balls in the air. Hear the sound of them plopping to the ground around me?

Since my brain is too frazzled to write a well thought out post, I am going to post some of my photos from Rome from the past few weeks with a few random thoughts.

The picture above is of a Chinese couple having their photo taken by two Chinese photographers at a door next to the entrance to my office in Rome. (If you see the top photo on this blog where I am standing under the AP office sign, it is just to the right of that.) This little wooden green door I believe leads into a storage room for the store on the corner called “Sorelle Adamoli.”

In the past six months or so, my colleagues and I have frequently found Chinese couples posing for photographers in the doorway. I have tried to ask in English and Italian what is so special about the doorway, but they do not understand me.  Does it bring goodluck?  Long life and happiness? Some day I will figure out this mystery.

In this particular photo I love the synchrony of their limbs—their legs, arms and fingers — and the way the man is caressing her cheek. Perhaps the photographer posed them that way, but it is pleasing.

Much less pleasing is the grouchy photo of Pope Francis that was plastered all over Rome last weekend.

A poster showing a grouchy looking Pope that was plastered all over Rome. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 9, 2016

A poster showing a grouchy looking Pope that was plastered all over Rome. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 9, 2016

The poster appeared last Saturday morning with a paragraph written on the bottom in “Romanaccio” – that would be Roman dialect.

It said, “A France’, hai commisariato Congregazioni, rimosso sacerdoti, decapitato l’Ordine di Malta e I Francescani dell’Immacolata, ignorata Cardinali…ma n’do sta la tua misericordia?”

Translated that would be:

“Hey, Frankie, you’ve put Congregations under supervision, removed priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of the Immaculate and ignored Cardinals…Where’s your mercy?”

The posters were put up illegally and City Hall officials covered them up with “affisione abusivo” signs and over the course of the week put other advertisements on top.  Who is behind the the poster plot remains a mystery.  But we all have a few ideas.

Pope Poster outside a bar on Via del Corso in Rome. February 9, 2016. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Pope Poster outside a bar on Via del Corso in Rome. February 9, 2016. Photo by Trisha Thomas

By the comments below the photo, it is clearly coming from conservative groups within the church lashing out against some measures taken by Pope Francis. It would be too much “inside baseball” to go into all the details, so I will just mention a few.

“Decapitated the Order of Malta” is referring to the saga over the Sovereign Order of Malta, born out of bickering over the distribution of condoms in Africa and resulting in Pope Francis effectively asserting Vatican control over what is a sovereign state.

In January, Pope Francis forced the resignation of the Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing, a 67-year-old British nobleman, after a tiff over the firing of the order’s Grand Chancellor, or foreign minister, Albrecht Von Boeselager. Boeselager had been ousted for the distribution of condoms as part of the order’s charitable efforts to help keep sex slaves in Myanmar from getting HIV.

The Sovereign Order of Malta dates back to the crusades when members of the order built a church in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims and defend the Holy Land. Today there are 13,500 members and many more volunteers from the order engaged in charitable works around the globe.

In Rome the Sovereign Order has its institutional seat in the Villa Magistral on the Aventine Hill and headquarters near Rome’s Spanish Steps on the glitzy Via dei Condotti. In these locations the Knights, Grand Masters and Grand Chancellors get dressed up in their black capes with white Maltese crosses. But the thousands of humanitarian workers around the world are much more practical, administering medical help in 120 countries aiding with refugees and displaced people.

They key figure behind all this melodrama has been American Cardinal Raymond Burke, the conservative archenemy of the Pope. Pope Francis removed Burke from his position as head of the Vatican’s supreme court in 2014 and gave him the position of Patron of the Order of Malta.

While working on this story one day, I paid a visit up to the Sovereign Order of Malta’s Seat on the Aventine Hill, the Villa Magistral. From here you can peek through the key hole and see the cupola on St. Peter’s Basilica.

The well worn key hole to the gate on the Villa Magistral of the Sovereign Order of Malta. Through this key hole one can see in the distance the cupola on St. Peter's Basilica. Photo by Trisha Thomas, January 2017

The well worn key hole to the gate on the Villa Magistral of the Sovereign Order of Malta. Through this key hole one can see in the distance the cupola on St. Peter’s Basilica. Photo by Trisha Thomas, January 2017

So Cardinal Raymond Burke, the archconservative who is challenging Pope Francis, was humbled these past weeks as the Pope forcefully asserted his power over the Sovereign state. This is not the first time that the two have tangled. Burke is among four Cardinals who wrote a letter to Pope Francis asking him five questions– known as the “dubia” – Latin for doubts– about his encyclical “Amoris Laetitia” – The Joy of Love. The questions were all related to church teaching on marriage and sexuality and were doubts they had because of what they described as the “grave disorientation and great confusion” caused by the Pope’s encyclical and its lenient attitudes on certain questions. Pope Francis has chosen not to reply, thus the “ignored Cardinals” on the poster.

The view of St. Peter's Basilica through the keyhole of the gate to the Villa Magistral, Seat of the Sovereign Order of Malta on the Aventine Hill in Rome. Photo by Trisha Thomas, January 2017

The view of St. Peter’s Basilica through the keyhole of the gate to the Villa Magistral, Seat of the Sovereign Order of Malta on the Aventine Hill in Rome. Photo by Trisha Thomas, January 2017

The simmering conservative unrest drew even more attention this week following a big “New York Times” article titled “Trump Aide Seen as Hero by Dissenters at Vatican.” The article spoke about a speech Bannon made by video link to a Vatican conference in 2014 and a meeting with Cardinal Raymond Burke in the same year.

It is not clear how close the former Executive chair of Breitbart News and now White House Chief Strategist is to Cardinal Raymond Burke, but they are clearly both against the progressive policies of Pope Francis.

It looks like the Pope is not losing any sleep over Stephen Bannon. This week a Jesuit journal released an interview with Pope Francis in which he said he feels more “at peace” than when he was living in Buenos Aires and does not need “sleeping pills.”

The “New York Times” article does mention that Bannon is making calls to get suggestions on who should be Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican.   There are a lot of names that are bouncing around on Catholic websites – Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Peggy Noonan and Sam Brownback. The name of Arnold Schwarzenegger has even popped up, fueled by the appearance the aging actor at the Pope’s weekly audience last week. But given their public insults over the ratings of “The Apprentice”, I don’t think Arnold is going to become an ambassador.

The “New York Times” article mentions the “Rad-Trads” – Catholic conservatives who see themselves as radical traditionalists and, according to the article, see in Mr. Bannon “an alternate leader who will stand up for traditional Christian values and against Muslim interlopers.”

Interestingly, today is the 4th year anniversary of the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI of his intention to resign. Benedict has remained true to his promise of a life of seclusion and prayer inside the Vatican walls and total loyalty to his successor. Many conservative Catholics, unhappy with Pope Francis’ progressive policies and populist style are nostalgic for the days of Pope Benedict.

And speaking of Donald Trump in the White House, I have been spending a lot of time doing political commentary work on Italian television. There has been so much happening in the past few weeks since the inauguration and Italians – like everyone else in the world – are trying to sort out what it all means. The wall, the Muslim ban, the tweets, the alternative facts etc etc etc.  I have been talking about, and thinking about, Trump so much that I am starting to see him everywhere.

Graffiti on wall near coffee bar on Via Flaminia in Rome. It looks like Trump to me and it is near the "Do not Enter" road sign. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February, 2015

Graffiti on wall near coffee bar on Via Flaminia in Rome. It looks like Trump to me. I noticed it after he announced his travel ban and block on refugees entering the US. I couldn’t help noticing that it is near a “Do not Enter” road sign. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February, 2015

One day recently as I was going to work I noticed this graffiti on the wall next to a coffee bar. It looked like the orange face and yellow poof hair of Trump to me so I snapped a photo.  My colleagues think I am mistaken, they think he is a child from some comic. It remains a mystery.  What do you think blog readers?

Is this graffiti supposed to be Donald Trump? I pass it every morning on the tram on Via Flaminia heading to work. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 2016

Is this graffiti supposed to be Donald Trump? I pass it every morning on the tram on Via Flaminia heading to work. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 2016

And now, to go totally off subject, I want to tell you all that there is a fantastic exhibit in Rome on Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. If you are in Rome you must see it. It is called “Artemisia Gentileschi and her Times” and is at the Museo di Roma running through May 7th.

For background on this fabulous artist, read my blog post: Artemisia Gentileschi – An Italian Heroine.

A photo of me taking a picture of Artemisia Gentileschi's painting "The Penitent Magdalene." on exhibit in Rome. January 2017

A photo of me taking a picture of Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting “The Penitent Magdalene.” on exhibit in Rome. January 2017

POST SCRIPT

This morning I was invited on an Italian TV show (Omnibus, LA7) to talk about the phenomenon of Fake News.  Another guest on the show was Thomas Williams, the new Breitbart correspondent in Rome.  Williams, a former priest, has been in Rome for decades with a long, complicated personal story, but I won’t go into that here.  He said that Bannon came in 2014 and his “meeting” with Cardinal Raymond Burke was actually an interview for Breitbart.  Amusingly, Williams said that Bannon has little regard for Holy See etiquette and formality and showed up at the Vatican in shorts.

He denied that there is any plotting going on between Bannon and Burke to promote a joint agenda within the Catholic Church.  However, he did say  that Bannon is fiercely and unapologetically against “radical Islam” and would like to see a Catholic church that defends itself against what he sees as the threat of Islam.   Bannon is helping to choose the new US ambassador to the Vatican and they are hoping to find a Catholic who can adequately “articulate” Trump’s world view and agenda.  So the mystery of who will be the next ambassador remains.

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

9 Comments

  1. Kathleen Botsford
    2017/02/12

    Well they may find a catholic to be ambassador but he/she won’t be a Christian.
    We Catholics in the States are very proud of Pope Francis. At least the Catholics I know. What a mess with the Donald.
    I love the post! Maybe my attention span is waning but I miss your posts!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/14

      Thank you Kathleen, you are so kind. I am so pleased to hear that you love my posts and that will inspire me to light a fire under my derriere and do some more. Baci

      Reply
  2. Alan
    2017/02/12

    you know already where this is all leading – Armageddon; The Rapture; The Last Trump! We’re doomed! Doomed!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/14

      Alan — it definitely feels that way these days. I would be very curious to hear your thoughts about goings-on in Turkey. The news everywhere is all so discouraging!!

      Reply
  3. Joan Schmelzle
    2017/02/12

    Hi Trisha,
    Had several thoughts as I read and probably will forget some, but here goes. I agree that cartoonist character looks like Trump. When I read the list of possible ambassadors to the Vatican, my reaction was “Dear God!” Which I have been using in a sad and asking way a lot since November. Have also read about Knights of Malta to do in National Catholic Reporter but had not heard of the poster. What an unnatural picture of Pope Francis–not to mention the salutation. I also read the story in the New York Times ( using one of my ten free a month online) about Bannon and Cardinal Burke. Another Dear God moment. Liked the pics of Chinese couple and the key hole which I’ve seen several times. Would also love to see the art exhibit you mentioned though I won’t attempt to spell her name.
    Now if you can and haven’t yet check out Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live as Sean Spicer and other characters. I don’t stay up that late but did watch her today while reading Washington Post headlines online. With that paper I can read any of the stories they post. Actually wish I could stop spending the amount of time I do on that every day, but the old journalist rears her head and the time goes.
    A presto, Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/14

      Joan, thank you for all your thoughtful comments. I really was a bit all over the place with this blog post but I am glad you found it interesting and liked the photos. I have seen Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live doing Sean Spicer and she is absolutely hilarious.

      Reply
  4. Lega Medcalf
    2017/02/12

    I just find it so frustrating that the Catholic church is so out of touch with birth control. How long will it take for these men to understand that it prevents abortion? I once asked a priest why the use of Viagra was allowed and was told by him that Viagra was okay because it fixed something that was not working but that prevention of pregnancy was trying to fix something that was working. Needless to say, this is why this church is going the way of the dinosaur. I have been told by a Muslim friend that this is also the belief of that faith……male domination over females is not ending anytime soon unfortunately.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/14

      Oh Good Grief!! I have never heard that explanation for Church approval of Viagra. Actually, I had not idea that the church had any position at all on Viagra. Unbelievable. I am totally with you on the question of birth control, these men will just never get it.

      Reply
  5. Ron
    2017/07/21

    With my business accomplished, ah, then shall only one temple,

    AMOR’s temple alone, take the initiate in.

    Rome, thou art a whole world, it is true, and yet without love this

    World would not be the world, Rome would cease to be Rome…

    Reply

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