There was a record low turnout for the closing papal Mass in Georgia.
According to the Associated Press, only a few thousand people attended the Mass in the Meshki stadium, which has a capacity of 25,000. With a Catholic population of only one per cent, half the seats in the arena were left empty.
During his visit, the Pope still made a point of reaching out to the Orthodox in an attempt to heal doctrinal differences that split the Church in the 11th century.
What the media are saying
The Pope was left “red-faced”, the Daily Express declared. It reported: “Ex-Soviet Georgia is overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian and less than one per cent of the population is Catholic, according to government figures. Still, organisers were hoping for a much bigger turnout than the some 3,000 people who came to the Mass at a stadium in the capital that has a capacity of 25,000.”
But the Pope handled it well and, according to Catholic News Service, managed to improvise with some memorable remarks at the end of Mass. Later in his trip Francis conceded that some people might think he was “wasting” his time travelling so far to visit such small communities, but noted that he first Christian community visited by the Holy Spirit – Mary and the disciples – was even smaller.
What the vaticanisti are saying
The Pope’s trip may not have attracted great crowds but it still meant a lot for individual Catholics, said John Allen of Cruxnow.com.
Allen highlighted the particular case of one elderly woman who Francis caught sight of straining against a barrier to see him. Allen writes: “The pontiff said he approached to say hello, and the woman told him she had come from Georgia and spent eight hours on the bus to see him – as, all the while, Francis, recalled, an ancient gold tooth sparkled in her mouth.” The woman travelled to see the Pope again the following day.
As far as Allen was concerned, the Pope still held huge significance for indvidual Georgians – especially “a simple octogenarian Georgian with a gold tooth and a rock-solid determination to see the Pope.”
The most overlooked story of the week
✣Statues smashed in four Rome churches
A Ghanaian man launched several vandalous attacks on churches in Rome.
The 39-year-old entered the Basilica of Santa Prassede last Friday and smashed two statues. He then vandalised statues, candlesticks and crucifixes in the church of San Martino ai Monti and the Basilicas of San Giovanni de’ Fiorentini and San Vitale.
Why was it under-reported?
Although some reports ran with dramatic headlines such as “Eternal City Under Attack”, it was a handful of attacks by a mentally unwell man whose religion is unknown and whose motives are unclear.
According to one eyewitness, Fr Pedro Savelli, the man kept screaming that this was “a wrong way of using the statues with the children”. Also, church vandalism isn’t an uncommon occurrence. In August this year, St Anselm and Cecilia’s Church in Holborn, Central London, was also vandalised.
What will happen next?
Police will try to investigate what caused the attack and find out if it was religiously motivated. But churches will always be a soft target for vandals or even worse forms of attack.
Following the incidents in Rome, the crucifix of Lake Fimon, in the Berici Hills of Vicenza, was defaced with red paint. If churches in Rome are only open for service times due to fears about future incidents, this would inevitably affect the spirit of the Eternal City and the tourists that it attracts.
✣The week ahead
Mgr Mar Joseph Srampickal will be consecrated as the first Syro-Malabar Bishop of Preston on Sunday. The episcopal ordination will take place at the Preston North End stadium with a prayer service from 11.30am, rosary at noon and the episcopal consecration beginning at 1.30pm. This will be followed by High Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael Campbell of Preston.
A Marian jubilee will be celebrated this weekend, when delegates from Marian shrines across the world gather at the Vatican. Pope Francis will be present at a prayer vigil tomorrow and celebrate Mass on Sunday.
Vatican journalist Marco Politi is conducting a lecture tour this month and will be visiting Heythrop College, London, on October 12 at 6.30pm, and then Dun Cow Cottage, Durham, the following day. (For more information please email [email protected]) He will also give a talk at Newman University, Birmingham, on Friday at 6pm.
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