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“Papelorum Progressio”: Why the Church Endures Latin and Loves Italian

October 21, 2008
I know what you might be thinking! Who is that man who doesn't even know his Latin? How could there be such an error in the headline of a ZENIT article? Surely Father Rosica meant to write "Populorum Progressio," Pope Paul VI's landmark 1967 encyclical letter "On the Development of Peoples."
No, what you see in the title is an exact expression overheard in the synod hall by one of the very wise and witty European cardinals who quipped on Saturday that we might be using up too much paper during the current synod for all of the drafts, reports, documents, etc.
His humorous expression could be rendered with a dynamic equivalent: "We are doing a good job in the multiplication of papers." Or, "My, are we succeeding in the paper trail business or what?" Or, "No more documents! I can't keep up with the reading!" Or finally, "Let's not forget ecology in all of this stuff."
But one must admit that the Latinized expression has a certain ring to it: "Papelorum Progressio!" Latin can really give a certain luster to our language!
Fratelli e fratelle
In the aula we not only speak Latin and other languages during serious discussions, but there is also time for some humor and laughter that makes this whole exercise bearable and human!
Last week an Asian "padre sinodale" nearly brought the house down twice with laughter when, in the presence of Benedict XVI, he addressed the formidable assembly with his Italian: "Santo Padre, Fratelli e Fratelle in Cristo."
"Fratello" in Italian is brother, and "fratelli" is the plural form of the word, meaning brothers. In trying to say sisters, which in Italian is "sorelle," the bishop simply put a feminine ending on the word meaning brothers, and came up with "fratelle."
A synodal delegate sitting near me quipped: "Eccellenza was trying to be inclusive and created new members of the human species: brothers-sisters!"
The locals and seasoned Vatican folks know, with a smile, that the proper address would be: "Fratelli e sorelle!" Nevertheless, what remains remarkable in this international assembly are the great efforts that people make to speak in Italian. It is really amazing to witness, and hear! I am not sure if this would ever work in any other language other than Italian.
Stove in storage
Here is one final Synodal anecdote that brings all of this impressive experience down to earth and shows the utter humanity and humor that are necessary for the Church to exist.
On Saturday evening, we all walked over to the Sistine Chapel for that magnificent evening vespers service with the Holy Father and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I. As I wrote on the weekend, it was a stunning evening in a spectacular setting.
As we neared the doors of the Sistine chapel, two prelates ahead of me were very keen on seeing the chapel without the customary hordes of tourists pushing and shoving and being hushed by that voice from the sound system inviting tourists to keep "silenzio!"
Greeting us at the entry to the "Cappella Sistina" were some of the distinguished Vatican ushers who, in their dark suits and on their best diplomatic behavior, welcomed this special synodal group into such a sacred space.
The two prelates ahead of me asked the usher: "Would you mind pointing out the stove and chimney?" The usher, flustered for a brief a moment responded: "But Eccellenze, the Holy Father is very alive and well and doing a wonderful job! Those items have been put away in storage and we won't need them for a long time! Welcome to our chapel!"
Joyful face
Thank God that when Peter left the Holy Land, he came to Rome! Viva il Vaticano in Italia!
The Italians have such a wonderful way with words and are masters at nuance ("sfummature" as they say here). I often thank God that the headquarters of the Church is in Italy and not in some other place which might have stifled all this history, humanity, beauty and humor with a form of professionalism, rigidity, perfectionism and efficiency.
Any religion that is unable to smile, to laugh, to recognize the humor and humanity of our condition is missing something very important. We should learn from some Popes of our recent history: John XIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and now Benedict XVI.
They teach us that Christianity and Catholicism are meant to be joyful, an exclamation point and not a big question mark. In the midst of our serious theological deliberations and pastoral work, however heavy they may be, we cannot forget that the world looks to us, in the midst of so many shadows and so much sadness, for a gentle smile, a merciful gaze, and a witness of the joy and some inkling of our redemption in Christ!
The strife is over and the battle is already won in him. It helps to show that fact now and then.
The above musings should let you know that today was a "Vacat Congregatio" -- meaning a day off from the regular schedule of synodal general assemblies, "circuli minores," and formal activities: TGIM -- Thank God it's Monday of the third week of synod.
The leaders of the synod, together with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the "Relatore Generale" spent the day compiling and formatting the "propositiones" (proposals) and preparing them for the general assembly that meets first thing Tuesday morning.
Early morning Mass was celebrated in the Vatican crypt with two priest friends, Father Dominic Lerouzès of Quebec -- Cardinal Ouellet's personal secretary at the Synod -- and Father Martin Proulx, superior general of the Famille Jeunesse -- a community of men and women that is one of Quebec's hidden treasures and sources of new life in Canada.
Since the grueling synodal schedule has not allowed any time for social times, today I was able to enjoy visits with some of the people who make Rome and the Vatican tick each day: Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Irish Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the same Pontifical council, and the new Canadian ambassador to the Holy See, Anne Leahy, a very fine diplomat with a wealth of Church experience.
She had been one of my parishioners while I was chaplain and pastor of the Newman Center at the University of Toronto, and she later served as the Canadian Federal Government Coordinator of World Youth Day 2002. Her excellency and I have history! Canada is indeed privileged to have such a fine diplomat at its Vatican mission. Ambassador Leahy looks forward to being "formally received" into the prestigious group of Vatican ambassadors at the end of the month.
I also had the good fortune to spend time with American Sister Mary Elizabeth, acting editor of the English edition of L'Osservatore Romano, Jesuit Father Stanislas from Siberia who is launching a television network in his part of the world, Sister Anne Mary, a wonderful Sister of St. Joseph of Rochester, New York, who, in her octogenarian years, is covering the synod as a Vatican accredited journalist for a women's nongovernmental organization at the United Nations, and others who wanted to discuss various aspects of the synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. It was a good break from the ordinary work in the aula.
Impress your friends
Finally, in a synodal and Vatican spirit, you might wish to impress some of your friends, parents, children, professors, lawyers, pastors, or anyone who isn't used to speaking the language of Cicero. Try out these expressions from the Vatican lexicon and watch for the reaction!
When you would like to have another coffee break: "Fiat Intervallum."
When you just read the latest best seller, let your friends know that you found a "liber maxime divenditus."
If you have car engine problems with your carburetor in Vatican City, tell the stations attendant that you have a "benzini aerisque migma."
If you would like to try the latest Italian gelato (ice cream), ask for a "gelida sorbitio."
If you are not into good Italian food at the thousands of trattorias, cause an international incident and ask for fast food (in Latin): Order a hot dog "pastillum botello fartum" (literally, a small bun stuffed with sausage). Ask for potato chips: "globuli solaniani"; with some cookies: "crustula."
If you are sports fan looking forward to the winter Olympics in Vancouver, be sure to watch the slalom: "descensio flexuosa" down an "iter narticum" (ski hill).
If you are a Canadian, you obviously love ice hockey: "pilamalleus super glaciem."
Finally, if you plan on competing in future Olympic games, you must avoid "usus agonisticus medicamenti stupefactivi" (performance-enhancing drugs).
Fiat Intervallum (let there be a break).
Arrivderci a domani (see you tomorrow)!
Basilian Father Thomas Rosica is the Vatican's English-language press attache for the 2008 world Synod of Bishops. A Scripture scholar and university lecturer, he is the chief executive officer of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network in Canada, and a member of the General Council of the Congregation of St. Basil.

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