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Religion: Rome’s Easter

2 minute read

On Palm Sunday last week, Pope Pius XI accepted a plaited, elaborately decorated palm branch from a member of the Bresca family of San Remo, which since 1585 has clung to its perquisite of supplying palms to pontiffs. This week, when the rest of Christendom joyously concludes its 40-day Lenten fast, Rome and the Pope were to pass their quietest Easter in years. Because of Sanctions and European unrest, few tourists or pilgrims arrived in Rome for Holy Week. Because of the war in Ethiopia, the faithful who thronged St. Peter’s Square on the off-chance the Holy Father might show himself were mostly women and children.

On Maundy Thursday Pius XI was to join his Court & Cardinals in a two-hour service in the Sistine and Pauline chapels, culminating when a consecrated Host, in a priceless ancient chalice of rock crystal studded with precious stones and etched with 13 scenes of the Passion of Our Lord, is placed on Solemn Exposition. On Good Friday, day of mourning, the Pope would neither wear his episcopal ring nor bless those who worshipped with him. In solemn procession he would return to the Pauline chapel, then bear the Host back to the Sistine chapel for the Mass of the Presanctified. It was made known last week that the Pope would not celebrate Easter Mass in St. Peter’s nor bestow public blessings on his flock as he did last year.

Not so much Rome’s quiet as the Holy Father’s age (79) and poor health dictated this decision.

Once a sturdy mountain climber. His Holiness has long held to a routine which would have downed many another man his age. He insists on arising daily at 6 a. m., hates to be bothered by any of the 20 doctors who comprise the Vatican staff, though he is said to be suffering from endocarditis, an inflammation of the membrane lining the cavities of the heart. He sometimes appears bothered with heaviness of the limbs, must be discreetly supported by attendants. Though Pius XI still orates with vigorous gestures and mobile expression (see cut), he has lately surprised groups of pilgrims by seating himself, talking at unwonted length. Vatican attendants last week looked forward to the end of heavy schedules and a good summer’s rest for the Holy Father at Castel Gandolfo in the cool Alban Hills.

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