Sunday, September 27, 2009

PILGRIMAGE TO THE POPE



Well, I'm off in a few hours to Stara Boleslav, where Pope Benedict will celebrate Mass tomorrow morning for an estimated 50,000 pilgrims. The small town is a center of religious pilgrimage both because of its association with St. Wenceslaus who was martyred here in 935, killed by his own brother, but also because of a rare icon of the 'Virgin and Child,' which has been proclaimed the "Palladium" or Protector of the Bohemian lands.



St. Wenceslaus is certainly the "patron saint' of the Czech Lands and Wenceslaus Square in the center of Prague (actually a very long boulevard)  was the center of many protests during the Communist era, including the self-immolation of Jan Palach, the student who set himself alight on Wenceslas Square in 1969 as a protest against public apathy following the Soviet invasion. The Velvet Revolution in 1989 also used the 'Square' as it's rallying point.

Nonetheless, Jan Hus remains the pre-eminent symbol of the power of religious prophecy in the Czech lands and his famous statue in Old Town Square was a frequent meeting point for young dissidents during the Communist era. Simply sitting at the feet of the statue became a symbolic method of protest against totalitarian rule. St. Wenceslaus, for many Czechs, is a poetic figure of fantasy. Jan Hus remains very much a living presence.

Lest we forget: Hus believed that the Mass should be celebrated in the vernacular, rather than in Latin, and that the Eucharist should be distributed to the faithful under both elements of bread and wine. Hus believed that limiting access to the Eucharistic wine to priests only created a false dichotomy of superiority between clergy and faithful. For these and other ideas, Hus was condemned by the Council of Constance and burned at the stake in 1415. We need to pause and reflect on this fact for a moment. Burned at the stake for proposing reforms which we consider commonplace today, and yet nothing has been done to restore his name, let alone recognize his genuine sanctity. Disappointingly, though not surprisingly, Pope Benedict has scrupulously avoided mentioning his name (correction: mentioned was made Sunday afternoon to a group of inter religious leaders, see article from John Allen NCR above), which is a bit like visiting South Africa and not mentioning Nelson Mandala (with all due respect to Vaclav Havel). We can't help but wonder what Benedict's reaction would have been to Jan Hus had he been Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (The Inquisition) in the 15th century.

But in the end, does it really matter what is mentioned during these three days of the Papal visitation. I suppose it does and we are right to point out such inconsistencies. However, my own reaction yesterday (from 10 in the morning until 8pm at night) is that the Pope and the dashing hierarchs in their purple brocade represent something so much more profound and mysterious than their own limitations, and these very limitations serve as a test of faith and as a sign of contradiction.  We must not get too caught up in them. The Mystery is so much greater than these vessels of clay and therein lies the paradox. We must not let their limitations act as a commentary on the worth of the Mystery that lies beneath, but on the other hand we must struggle constantly to remove any impediments that cloud this Mystery and obscure it's light. Benedict (and Gorgeous George) for whatever inscrutable reasons of Providence has been chosen at this moment in history to be both a sign of the sacred in the Roman Catholic tradition and to serve as a sign of contradiction. Let us respect the sign and continue to struggle with the contradictions, telling truth to power.

Services begin tonight at 8pm in Stara Boleslav in the Mariánské náměstí , the central town square dedicated to the Virgin Mary and I will be there holding my candle in witness for gay people everywhere. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament will begin at 10:30 in the Church of the Ascsumption of the Virgin Mary and will continue through the night. I will stay for two hours, then head back to my car to sleep (which has a very wide, comfy back seat), then rise at 5am to enter the grassy compound for the Pope's Mass, which begins at 9:35.

Jayden Cameron reporting from Prague for GAYMYSTIC NEWS :)



2 comments:

wild hair said...

Thank you for your vigil. Thank you for the informative reporting.

Jayden Cameron said...

and thank you for your encouragement. Just returned from inspirational 24 hours at Stara Boleslav - only to hear of the crushing of Bat Nha monastery in Vietnam. Given that Benedict's visit is meant to celebrate the fall of communism, this latest news is full of tragic irony.