Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

A Blessing on the Via del Moro; A Scandal at St. Peter's

(The Remnant Blog, January 9, 2023.)

My family always used to spend a month or more in Rome after the end of the academic year in New York in May and before the beginning of the Roman Forum’s Summer Symposium on Lake Garda. In 1995, my wife and I arrived in the Eternal City with our firstborn child, Nicholas, who was only two months old.

We always stayed at a religious-run house on the Janiculum Hill called the Villa Bassi, dining every night at an inexpensive and extremely welcoming restaurant on the Via del Moro in Trastevere called Mario’s. Although the Villa Bassi, like so many religious houses in the post-conciliar “springtime” has long been secularized, we have remained very close both to the Roman family that owned this simple trattoria, as well as with the charming waitress that generally served us. She still lives around the corner, just off the Piazza San Giovanni della Malva, about which more anon.

One evening, after dinner in that memorable year of 1995, my wife Anne, a close friend of ours, Rev. Dr. Richard Munkelt, who was then studying at the Angelicum and is now the Chaplain of the Roman Forum, our infant son Nicholas, and I were chatting outside Mario’s while I smoked my usual heady Antico Toscano. “Look”, my friend said: “here comes Cardinal Ratzinger.” Sure enough, up the Via del Moro he strolled, I believe with the then Fr. Gänswein, probably after his own meal, but a bit of a distance from the German restaurant that he so much appreciated near the Vatican. (“I would not be able to come here any more”, Cardinal Ratzinger sadly lamented to its owner, when the latter asked him what would happen should he be elected pope).

Emboldened by his smile, we approached the Cardinal and asked him to give Nicholas a blessing, which he did, and with real enthusiasm. He then lingered with us for about fifteen minutes afterwards. We told him that we were very pleased with a number of the documents coming out of the CDF soundly trouncing varied liberal distortions of Church doctrine. We explained what we, as a Traditionalist organization, did at our program in Gardone Riviera. He thanked us for our work and asked me to leave him off some information at the old Holy Office, which I did the next day.

Leaping a decade ahead, I was finishing a class at St. John’s University in New York when a colleague told me that a pope had been elected. I went running to the Student Center where there was a very large screen broadcasting news directly from the Piazza San Pietro. Before I knew it, two of my best students were sprinting beside me. I turned to ask them why, and they said: “if you are running, it must be important!” We got to the screen just in time to hear the announcement and the name of the new pope, and then to see his extremely welcome, smiling face. My wife was at the playground across the street from our apartment in Greenwich Village with our then three children, listening to the radio. She burst into tears when learning who had been elected, looked at our ten year old Nicholas with the 1995 blessing in mind, and had all three kids kneel down to say a makeshift Te Deum in thanksgiving.

The now Rev. Dr. Munkelt, my wife and I all knew that Pope Benedict XVI had a complicated theological and past progressive reputation, much of which we regretted. Nevertheless, we all had had the experience of being with him as an extraordinarily approachable Prince of the Church on the Via del Moro; a man who, quite frankly, exuded the True Faith as he happily blessed our child. Moreover, we all knew from Michael Davies---that feisty Welshman who was one of the most important members of the Roman Forum, one of the most erudite defenders of the Traditional Liturgy in his books, his extensive writing in the pages of The Remnant, his world-wide lecturing, and in his long-time work for Una Voce International---that Cardinal Ratzinger was actually our friend; that he always encouraged Michael in labors for the Mass of the Ages; and that he would do something to save that Mass if he had the opportunity to do so.

Unfortunately, Michael had died before our friendly, approachable Cardinal became the authoritative Pope who officially confirmed what Dietrich von Hildebrand, the founder of the Roman Forum, and Walter Matt, the founder of The Remnant, had long taught all of us: that the Mass of the Ages could never, ever be abolished. I, however, was alive, and could “represent” Michael a few weeks after Benedict’s election, when I happened to be passing through Rome and went to pay our joint homage to the new pontiff in whom he had placed his hopes at his Sunday Angelus.

Following my wife’s earlier example, it was now my turn to shed tears. This was because the voice that I heard that Sunday was exactly the same voice that I heard give Nicholas his faith-filled blessing on the Via del Moro in 1995: affable, humble, exuding belief, whatever the complexities of his own scriptural exegesis may have been in days gone by. Perhaps my judgment was not scientific in its pillars, but at that moment I was myself now absolutely certain that Michael had been right. Benedict would “do us. right”. This man was “tutto di un pezzo”---a man of principle, all of one piece, unchanging in his manner, either when speaking to the world at large, or to an insistent, intransigent Welshmen, or to a simple family and their friend on a street in Trastevere. He was a Catholic Mensch. We would survive and we would thrive.

On Tuesday, January 3rd, a Solemn Requiem Mass was celebrated for Pope Benedict XVI at Holy Innocents Church in Manhattan. It was packed, and, as usual, with a majority of young people and young families, all of whom had been able to grow up much more securely in the Faith due this complex, but good and humble man. All were there to give him his due through their heartfelt thanks, since his “progressive” past had not prevented him from recognizing his duty to all that was sacred in the Church of Christ and himself doing justice to it. I looked around to see if the two students who had run alongside me to greet my Via del Moro Prince as the successor of St. Peter on the day of his election were in the Manhattan congregation. They certainly could have been, because they have both become Traditionalists as well. The crowd was too thick to be sure if they were there or not. I would not have had the same problem after a typical Novus Ordo celebration!

But what a tragic contrast there was between the respect given to the author of Summorum Pontificum at Holy Innocents and the scandalous disdain displayed in his regard by the reigning pontiff at his Roman funeral.

Francis’ bare mention of our fallen benefactor in his homily at St. Peter’s was but the tip of the iceberg. He did not want to give the workers at the Vatican the day off. Unlike the Italian Government, he did not lower the City’s flags to half-mast. He requested representatives from secular states not to wear formal mourning garb. Refusing Benedict’s body a solemn entrance into the Basilica, he caused it to be brought into St. Peter’s in an SUV through a side door, followed only by his long-term secretary and a few religious who had watched over him in his last days. Francis’ minion inside---dressed, I have read, in jeans---would not permit the large mass of people who came to honor him---once again, many of them young men, women, fathers and mothers of families, seminarians, and freshly ordained priests---to stop to pray before his bier. He did not accompany the body to the crypt. Papa Benedetto the Humble was in effect ignored by Papa Bergoglio the Proud.

Sia benedetto Papa Benedetto! Let us all pray for him so that he can pray for us as quickly as possible in Heaven. The sacred cause whose progress he aided is unstoppable, however strong the position of those whose master is merely the passing fancies of a pathetic, dying, “enlightened” civilization that cannot tell the difference between a man and a woman may temporarily seem to be.

Allow me to finish by giving one more example of this invincibility. Mario’s no longer exists, but I passed in front of it last October and remembered that blessing from 1995 once again. Why was I there? Because I was on my way to an apartment that my waitress friend from the restaurant had found for me to stay in on the Piazza San Giovanni della Malva so that I could attend the annual Traditional Mass in honor of Summorum Pontificum at St. Peter’s. This, like my Roman friendship, had somehow still managed to survive regardless of the latest ungodly assaults against it. I am going to email my two students after I finish this reminiscence to tell them that our sprint to the Student Center had definitely been worth it. Viva Cristo Rey! Victory will be ours!

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