They Were Speaking to Us
In June 1963 the American journalist wrote in the 'Catholic Worker' about her days in Rome during Vatican II
Today the Mothers for Peace, a group made up of Catholic Workers, members of Pax, Women Strike for Peace, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and others, women from Hiroshima, South America (Peru and Colombia), the United States (the majority), Austria, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, France, and Italy! We were all received by the Holy Father in one of those vast audiences in St Peter's together with groups from schools from many countries. We were at first disappointed (especially the non-Catholics) that we did not have an opportunity each one to speak to Pope John, but it was a perfect setting for the message he delivered on Peace, addressing us women, thanking us for our Peace Pilgrimage and message, and saying it brought comfort to his heart and blessing us, to return home to our labor for Peace. What an atmosphere of fatherly love and serenity he makes around him. And what a joyful pilgrimage this has been! I prayed again at Saint Peter's tomb, where I was fortunate enough to have a complete view of the entire scene, and there, sitting between a young scholarship student of voice from Nicaragua and a young Roman girl, a restorer of paintings, I prayed for you all, and received the Pope's blessing, which he said was for all our dear ones, and you are that to me, fortunate pilgrim that I am.
Monday, 3 June. I landed from the Vulcania Italian Line Ship at 45th Street New York, at 8:00 in the morning. We had been getting only the most meager reports as to the Pope's health on board ship where the news was given out each day in Italian on a tabloid news sheet. Each morning at Mass the chaplain had asked our prayers for the Holy Father, and each afternoon at Benediction we had repeated those prayers.
We were still sitting at our lunch with people coming and going in the little apartment on Kenmare Street, when someone came in with news of the Pope's death at three in the afternoon. It had been a long agony and daily I prayed the Eastern rite prayer for a death without pain for this most beloved Father to all the world. But I am afraid he left us with the suffering which is an inevitable part of love, and he left us with fear, too. If the reports of his last words are correct, fear that his children, as he called all of us in the
world, were not listening to his cries for pacem in terris. He was offering his sufferings, he had said before his death, for the continuing Council in September, and for peace in the world. But he had said, almost cheerfully, that his bags were packed, and that he was ready to go, and that after all death was the beginning of a new life.
It was on the day before I sailed for New York, 22 May, that I had the tremendous privilege of being present at his last public appearance. He stood in his window looking out over the crowd in front of St Peter's. An audience had been scheduled as usual for that Wednesday at 10:30 and the great Basilica was crowded to the doors when the announcement was made that the Pope had been too ill the night before to make an appearance that day but that he would come to the window and bless the crowd, as he was ac-
customed to do each Sunday noon. I had had an appointment that morning for 10:30 at the office of Cardinal Bea, to see his secretary, Fr Stransky, the Paulist, about a meeting I was to have with the Cardinal that night and was leaving the No. 64 bus at the colonnade to the left of St Peter's. I noticed that the people leaving the bus were hastening to the square. Word gets around Rome quickly and when I inquired I was told that the Holy Father would be at the window in a moment. I hastened to a good position in the square and was there in time to see the curtains stir and the Pope appear. I had not realized how tremendous that square was until I saw how tiny the Pope's figure seemed, up at that window of the apartment under the roof. The voice of the Holy Father came through a loud speaker of course, and seemed strong. He said the Angelus, then the prayer to the guardian angels and ended with a requiem prayer for the dead. It was the last time the public saw his face (many of the crowd had opera glasses, so one can use that expression). Questioning those at the little convent where I had been staying in Rome the last week, I learned the subject of the Pope's last talk, at his last Wednesday audience. He had urged all to read and study his last encyclicals, the call to the Council, Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris. He had said all he had to say, this was the message he left the world.
To report further about the trip to Rome which came about because a group of women, mostly of other faiths, and including those who did not believe, had called for this attempt to reach the Holy Father with a plea for a condemnation of nuclear war, and a development of the ideas of non-violent resistance. This very attempt brought out clearly how difficult are these attempts at unity and co-existence. It is no easier to receive a hearing with princes of the Church that it is to receive one from the princes of this world. There is protocol, there is hierarchy and blocs of one kind or another, there is diplomacy in what we generally consider to be the realm of the spirit. There is maneuvering for credit and recognition from groups and nationalities among the women themselves. This latter began as soon as the plane load of women arrived from the States and found that Hildegard Goss Mayr, Marguerite Harris and I had drawn up a preliminary paper, a one page message to be sent to the Holy Father. Because of the Pontiff's precarious state of health, the message had to be in the hands of his secretaries by eleven the next morning, Monday, in order that we be recognized at the coming Wednesday audience. There seemed to be no chance of a smaller audience, or any special recognition. But to be assured that our message reached him, it had to be short, complete and accompanied by individual letters from the women, and a summary of the make up of the pilgrimage. For this latter, Marguerite had worked valiantly every afternoon and evening on
way over from New York. She had typed up many copies of concise biographies of the American women concerned and had them ready for that first meeting. But the acceptance of that one page message caused the most trouble. It meant a meeting that lasted from the time the women assembled until 2:00 in the morning and though it was finally accepted as revised, there was renewed discussion the next morning, another meeting right after breakfast and then the hasty departure to meet the Cardinal who was going to bring it to the attention of the Holy Father.
This was only the first of continual meetings, meetings about the letters to be presented, about other people to see, influences to be exerted, meetings as to whether one sector or another of the group of sixty or seventy were being properly understood or treated. The language barrier made everything harder. We were from so many countries, so many faiths, so many backgrounds. Certainly there was too little time for us to get acquainted with each other. But I think most of us have lists of the women who were there, and most of us hope to see each other again and perhaps get acquainted better through correspondence of one kind or another. There is so much peace literature being gotten out and one thing it does is to draw us together.
The day of the audience arrived. It was long to wait. Probably people were standing two hours and it was not until 12:20 that finally there was a surge in that vast mob and a sudden silence followed by almost a roar of greeting.
But then the Pope began to speak and the words that fell from his lips seemed to be directed to us, to our group, speaking as he did about the "Pilgrims for Peace" who came to him, and his gratitude for their gratitude and encouragement. The young woman who had helped us find our places was translating his words as fast as he spoke them, and writing them down while two of us read over her shoulder. She kept beaming at us, and all those around us, seeing our buttons, large almost as saucers, bright blue bearing the legend "Mothers for Peace" in Italian, also smiled and indicating the Holy Father and us in turn, seemed to be letting us know that he was speaking to us especially.
It seemed too good to be true and if all those around us had not kept assuring us he was speaking to us, I would have considered it but a coincidence. Our messages had reached him we felt, impossible though it had seemed they would.
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28 November 2012, page 12
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