In an idle moment, I browsed through some grainy old black-and-white video clips of the life of Pius XII. I had not realised how much he travelled in the 1930s, when he was Secretary of State. It all looked uncannily like the culture mainly set in place by John Paul II, of the travelling papal circus going from country to country, doing big things (Eucharistic congresses ...) at big services in a thoroughly big way. Not surprisingly, he was called the cardinale volante (remember that air travel was by no means as every-day at that time), and described as a sort of vice-papa.
I am slightly torn as whether I agree with that sort of thing. On the one hand, the role of Peter is to strengthen his brethren, and a visit can be very strengthening. On the other hand, it does rather suggest that a pope is a sort of superbishop, which he isn't. He is simply the Bishop of that Church with which all Christians are supposed to be in communion; of the Church where Peter's voice speaks - so that he articulates the Infallibility of the whole Church and has a Primacy, when and where it is needed, of ensuring that the norma fidei is everywhere the norm. In a healthy Particular Church, surely the local Successor of the Apostles should be capable of fulfilling the munus apostolicum? But perhaps the current ruptures and disorders do call for a papa volante. Perhaps the global village does require, in the modern pope, an instant global pastor such as most other Christian generations, before the technologies of instant travel and instant communication, did not need. Anglican Catholics have certainly often felt the advantage of a Papacy which can protect the persecuted Christian from bully-boys closer home.
My goodness me, papal events in the days of Pius XII had a style and a grandeur. But, beneath the grandeur, I was struck by how vulnerable the Pontiff was, perched on the Gestatorial Chair. Not only could he surely have been assassinated with ease; even an attack upon those carrying him could have sent him crashing praecipitem to the ground. Indeed, as I watched, my heart was several times in my mouth as the chair careered up and down steps and hurtled round corners. I found that combination of pomp and vulnerability rather touching and Christ-like. On Palm Sunday, the Lord felt no need for bullet-proof glass, although the palm branches of Victory proclaimed him the superior of any Imperator, and the donkey proclaimed him the Messiah.
In the thread, Joshua has provided a most apposite poem from dear Oscar's Rosa Mystica. An undervalued collection of beautiful verse.